Vermilion Ohio History

1877 Vermilion Lighthouse

Vermilion, Ohio straddles a river of the same name as it empties into Lake Erie, and it has a past as colorful as the clay for which the river was named. Once known as the “city of sea captains,” the city was a popular drop-off point for illegal liquor from Canada during the days of Prohibition. The city has been home not only to many captains and sailors, but also to an amazing lighthouse story that spans two centuries and two Great Lakes.

Inhabited by the Erie Indians as early as 1656, Vermilion had grown large enough by the mid-nineteenth century for its harbor to warrant government maintenance. In 1847, Congress appropriated $3,000 to build a lighthouse and prepare the head of the pier on which it would be built. Before 1847, the people of Vermilion had constructed their own navigational aid: wooden stakes topped with oil-burning beacons at the entrance of the harbor.

By 1852, both the lighthouse and the pier were in need of repair, a project that cost $3,000. Seven years later, in 1859, the lighthouse was rebuilt at a cost of $5,000. The new lighthouse was made of wood and topped with a whale oil lamp. The lamp’s flame was surrounded by red glass, resulting in a red beam that, with the help of a sixth-order Fresnel lens, was visible from Lake Erie. A man from the town looked after the lighthouse, lighting the lamp each evening and refueling it each morning.

Though the 1859 light was functional, it was not sturdy enough for long-term use. Both time and the lake’s elements took their toll on the wooden lighthouse, and by 1866, Congress had appropriated funds to build a new light, this time out of iron, on the west pier. The lighthouse was designed by a government architect and cast by a company in Buffalo, New York. A home for the future keeper was purchased in 1871, six years before the iron lighthouse was installed.

To cast the lighthouse, the ironworkers used sand molds of three tapering rings, octahedral in shape. The iron they used was from unpurchased Columbian smoothbore canons, obsolete after the Battle of Fort Sumter. As noted by Vermilion native Ernest Wakefield, “The iron, therefore, of the 1877 Vermilion lighthouse echoed and resonated with the terrible trauma of the War Between the States.”

Once the ironworkers in Buffalo had completed the casting of the lighthouse and ensured that all parts fit together correctly, the pieces of the lighthouse were loaded onto barges in the nearby Erie Canal. Hauled by mules, the barges reached Oswego, New York, in two weeks. From there, the lighthouse was transferred to the lighthouse tender Haze. The Haze, a steam-powered propeller vessel, departed Oswego on September 1, 1877 and headed west for the Welland Canal, where a series of 27 locks raised the boat to the water level of Port Colborne and onto Lake Erie. One must wonder why this circuitous route was taken when Buffalo, where the tower was cast, sits right on Lake Erie.

On its way to Vermilion, the Haze stopped at Cleveland Harbor, where it took on the lighthouse’s lantern, lumber and lime for building the foundation, and a crew to raise the lighthouse. Also loaded was a fifth-order Fresnel lens, which had been shipped to Cleveland by train. All that is known about the lens is that it was made by Barbier and Fenestre of Paris, France. Whether it was ordered specifically for the Vermilion lighthouse or recovered from the Erie Harbor Lighthouse, no one knows.

One day later, the Haze arrived in Vermilion. It took several days to prepare the foundation, and once it was in place, the crew used the derrick on the Haze to lift the bottom ring of cast iron and place it on the foundation. After the ring was bolted down, the successive tapering rings were put into place and bolted to each other. Then the pediment and lantern were added. The Fresnel lens and oil lantern were installed later. Once completed, the tower measured 34 feet high. It stood at the end of the pier with a long 400-foot-long catwalk running above it. This allowed the lighthouse keeper to travel between the light and the mainland when large waves crested over the pier. One such lightkeeper was Captain J. H. Burns, who lived in the home purchased by the government in 1871. From this home on the corner of Liberty and Grand Street, he would walk each night to hang the lantern inside Vermilion’s lens. He would also wash the windows around the prism twice a week.

Initially, oil for the lantern was stored in the keeper’s house. It was not until 1906 that an oil shed, accommodating 540 gallons, was built just south of the lighthouse. The lamp was converted to acetylene in 1919, and then eventually into an electric beacon. Its white light would blink one second on, seven seconds off. Ultimately, it was replaced by a steady red beam.

The 1877 lighthouse performed its duties faithfully for over half a century, shining its light for both commercial and pleasure boats. During this time, it was moved closer to the end of the pier (25 feet from the outer end), and survived multiple collisions with watercraft. Eventually it was put under the care of Lorain Lighthouse’s assistant keeper, and in the early 1920s, the Vermilion keeper’s home was sold to the local Masonic Lodge.

In the summer of 1929, Theodore and Ernest Wakefield, teenagers at the time, noticed that the Vermilion Lighthouse was leaning toward the river. Most likely, the lighthouse pier had suffered damage in an icy storm earlier that year. The Wakefield boys reported what they had seen to their father, Commodore Frederick William Wakefield, who contacted the U.S. Lighthouse Service in Cleveland. The U. S. Corps of Engineers came to Vermilion and determined that the light was indeed unstable. Within a week, the lighthouse had been dismantled. In its place, a steep-sided 18-foot steel pyramidal tower was erected. The new structure, called a "functional disgrace," continued to shine a red light, but since it was automated, no lighthouse keeper was needed.

Commodore Wakefield offered to purchase the old lighthouse and move it to his property, Harbor View, but his request was denied. Instead, the cast-iron pieces were loaded up and hauled away. The residents of Vermilion were sad to see their beloved lighthouse go. No one told them what the fate of the old lighthouse would be, and its whereabouts were unknown until many years later.

Ted Wakefield, one of the young men who had noticed the lighthouse leaning in 1929, had very fond memories of Vermilion’s past and its lighthouse. As an adult, he put his efforts into encouraging downtown Vermilion to maintain its historical 19th century appearance. His childhood home, Harbor View, was donated to Bowling Green State University and later sold to the Great Lakes Historical Society. Built of gravel from Lake Erie in 1909, the old house became the main structure of the society's Inland Seas Maritime Museum. This gave Ted an idea. He decided that a replica of the 1877 lighthouse would be the perfect complement to it.

Ted spearheaded a fund-raising campaign to build the new lighthouse. Funds were raised by mailing out brochures, writing articles in the local paper, and collecting donations at the museum. By 1991, Ted and his fellow fund-raisers had collected $55,000---enough to build a 16-foot replica of Vermilion’s 1877 lighthouse. Architect Robert Lee Tracht of Huron prepared the plans, which were approved by the city, county, and state authorities, but only after a long delay. Even the U.S. Coast Guard approved the plans for making the light a working lighthouse, right down to its steady red light. Again, a company in Buffalo fabricated the lighthouse.

Ground was broken for the new lighthouse on July 24, 1991, by Mayor Alex Angney. The 25,000-pound base of the replica lighthouse, measuring 15 feet in diameter, was brought to Vermilion on a flatbed truck. Cranes were used to place it onto the foundation. According to rumors, before the base was attached to the foundation, an 1877 gold piece was placed under the vertex of the octahedron that would point true north. It seems only fitting that a piece of 1877 be part of the new lighthouse’s foundation.

The tower was raised in less than three hours on October 23, 1991. The lantern and roof were attached the next day, and a fifth-order Fresnel lens (owned by the museum) was mounted. The tower was electrically wired, and an incandescent 200-watt lamp with Edison-base was installed. A red glass cylinder surrounded the lamp to make the replica complete. The new Vermilion Lighthouse was dedicated on June 6, 1992, and is still operational today. It serves not only as part of the museum, but also as an active aid to navigation.

Shortly after their new light was built, the residents of Vermilion learned what had become of their original lighthouse. Amazingly, the structure had not been destroyed after its removal. In fact, it was still shining, and had been for the last 59 years.

Once the lighthouse had been dismantled in 1929, it was transported to Buffalo, New York, where it was renovated. Six years later, in 1935, the lighthouse was given a new home and a new charge---on Lake Ontario. Sitting off Cape Vincent at the entrance to the Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Vermilion Lighthouse was given a fifth-order Fresnel lens and renamed East Charity Shoal Lighthouse. The light remains an active aid to navigation, with its modern optic (installed in 1992) displayed at a 52-foot focal plane.

East Charity Shoal Lighthouse

The steamship Rosedale was built at Sunderland, England in 1888 and on her maiden run completed the first ever direct voyage from London to Chicago via the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal. This accomplishment caused great excitement in the American maritime community, as it proved that grains from the elevators in Chicago, and other ports on the Great Lakes, could be shipped to London without transshipment. Though her first sailing caused a stir, every trip did not turn out quite so well. On December 5, 1897, the Rosedale grounded upon the rocks of East Charity Shoal during a northwest gale. The vessel was abandoned to her underwriters, but was eventually towed off by a wrecking company, and, after being rebuilt, returned to service.

During the summer of 1900, John C. Churchill, Jr. visited Charity Shoal to survey and chart the outlying spur known as East Charity Shoal. This hazard, which was about 3,000 feet long and at some points covered by just ten feet of water, lay in the line of transit for vessels using the St. Lawrence River and was thus a great peril to navigation. Later that year, the Lighthouse Board moved to mark the obstacle and issued the following Notice to Mariners: “Notice is hereby given that a nun buoy painted red and numbered 2 has been placed in twenty feet of water to mark the easterly edge of East Charity shoal, Lake Ontario, New York. This buoy is about 1 3/8 miles E.S.E. of Charity shoal gas buoy. It is recommended that vessels bound to or from the main channel of the St. Lawrence river, and using the passage between Galloo and Main Duck Islands, should keep to the eastward of this buoy.”

This navigational buoy didn’t prevent all mishaps, as in October of 1912 the steamer Rock Ferry ran aground on East Charity Shoal, and tugs had to be dispatched in an attempt to free her. The Lighthouse Service eventually opted for a more permanent method of marking the shoal, and in May of 1934 newspapers in upstate New York advertised that sealed proposals would be accepted by the Superintendent of Lighthouses in Buffalo for a “timber crib-concrete superstructure” on East Charity Shoal.

The Walls Company was selected as the contractor for the project and had completed enough of the structure so that a temporary light was established on the south side of the crib on November 24, 1934. The foundation consisted of a fifty foot square crib, whose height varied from eleven to fourteen feet to fit the shoal. Constructed ashore in an inverted position, the crib was launched, righted, towed to the site, and sunk in place using stone and interlocking blocks of pre-cast concrete. A reinforced concrete slab was placed over the entire pier and atop this a one-story deckhouse, also of reinforced concrete and octagonal in form, was built to support an octagonal iron tower. After the tower was installed on the deckhouse in 1935, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was placed in the tower’s lantern room and, using acetylene as the illuminant, a 1,300 candlepower light was produced at a focal plane of fifty-two feet above low water depth. The entire project, including riprap to protect the foundation, cost $95,125.

The octagonal iron tower at East Charity Shoal has the distinction of having served at two stations and on two different Great Lakes. It was first installed in 1877 at the end of a pier in Vermilion, Ohio to mark the entrance to the Vermilion River from Lake Erie. After the beacon had been in service for over fifty years, two teenage brothers, who lived next to the harbor, noticed that the lighthouse had developed a lean after the pier had been damaged by an ice storm. The father of the two boys contacted the Lighthouse Service, and not long thereafter the heavy tower was replaced by a much lighter automated tower.

The residents of Vermilion were fond of the old red and white pierhead beacon, and when the octagonal tower was taken away it was as if a member of the community had been lost. Years later, after his childhood home had been converted into the Inland Seas Maritime Museum, Ted Wakefield, one of the two boys who had noticed the lean, championed a fundraising drive to build a replica of the 1877 tower for the museum grounds. His dream was realized during the summer of 1991, when a crane lifted the newly cast tower onto its prepared foundation overlooking Lake Erie.

For years, Vermilionites did not know the fate of the 1877 lighthouse. Most thought it had ended up on the scrap heap, but the real answer was revealed to Vermilion when Olin M. Stevens, of Columbus, Ohio, visited the Inland Seas Maritime Museum. Stevens came seeking additional information on his grandfather, Olin W. Stevens, who was a third generation lighthouse keeper, and when he learned the museum was trying to determine the fate of the 1877 tower, he realized he had just recently found the answer. While searching for information on his ancestors to give to his grandchildren, Stevens opened an old trunk and discovered a newspaper article that told about the service of his grandfather at Tibbetts Point Lighthouse. A portion of the article read, “Altho this is his first duty on Lake Ontario, Charity Shoal light, visible from the Tibbett's Point headland, is an old friend. The tower upholding the gas lamp on Charity formerly was under Keeper Stevens’ charge at Vermilion, near Lorain. Victim of an ice shove, it was salvaged and taken to Buffalo, where it was assigned to Charity.” The mystery had been solved.

Although the East Charity Shoal Lighthouse was never manned, it was still responsible for saving the life of at least one individual. Dr. Joseph G. Reidel, a 37-year-old physician from Syracuse, was sailing on Lake Ontario with his wife and Dr. and Mrs. W. Hall of Watertown on August 5, 1955, when winds estimated at 70mph struck their dragon class sloop. Dr. Reidel was washed overboard by the wind-whipped sea and for an hour was able to tread water and keep sight of the sailboat while his wife and friends desperately tried to rescue him or get him a lifejacket. Neither effort was successful, and Dr. Reidel was presumed lost. As it started to get dark, Reidel noticed the glint of a lighthouse and decided to swim towards it. Reidel swallowed a lot of water and suffered leg cramps for a stretch of forty minutes, but as he struggled to stay afloat he kept repeating to himself, “This can’t happen to me but it will unless I get there.”

After more than eight hours in the water, Reidel pulled himself up onto the pier at East Charity Shoal. Exhausted, he soon fell asleep and was rescued at 5:30 a.m. the following morning by three fishermen. Reidel was eventually taken to Cape Vincent, where he was reunited with his wife and friends.

Though alone and surrounded by a vast body of water, East Charity Shoal Lighthouse will always be cherished by the residents of Vermilion and a grateful physician from Syracuse.

In July of 2008, the East Charity Shoal Lighthouse was declared surplus by the Coast Guard and pursuant to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000 was "made available at no cost to eligible entities defined as federal, state and local agencies, non-profit corporations, educational agencies, or community development organizations for education, park, recreation, cultural, or historic preservation purposes."

Copyright 2001-2008 Lighthousefriends.com

Birthplace Of Lester A. Pelton

Lester Allan Pelton (September 5, 1829 – March 14, 1908), considered to be the father of modern day hydroelectric power, is one the most famous inventors of American history.  Pelton invented the impulse water turbine.  Lester Pelton was born in Vermillion, Ohio in 1829. His father was a farmer.  He lived on Risden Road and attended the Cuddeback School on the northwest corner of Risden and Lake Roads.  He had seven siblings.  His grandfather, Captain Josiah S. Pelton, located in Vermilion in 1818. In ill health, his oldest son, Josiah S. Jr., assumed the role of family patriarch. The family prospered and all figured prominently in the development of Vermilion in business and government.  But it was Lester who would become world famous.

When Lester grew up he decided to travel by wagon train to California. He was a quiet person who liked to study and read books. At first he went to Sacramento and became a fisherman. He was not successful at fishing so he decided to move. He went to Camptonville in Nevada County after he heard about a gold discovery along the North Fork of the Yuba River.

In 1860 all types of mining were going on, placer, hardrock, and hydraulic. Pelton did not want to be a miner so he decided to improve mining methods. He watched, studied, and learned about methods needed to power hydraulic mining. Hardrock mines also needed power to lower the men into the mines, bring up the ore cars, and return the workers to the surface at the end of their shift. Power was also needed to operate rock crushers, stamp mills, pumps, and machinery.

At the time the steam engine was used by many mines for their main power source, but the hillsides were running out of wood and trees. The Empire Mine in Grass Valley used about twenty cords of wood a day. Pelton knew the forests were disappearing so he began thinking about inventing a water wheel. In 1878 he experimented with several types of wheels.

According to a 1939 article by W. F. Durand of Stanford University in Mechanical Engineering, "Pelton's invention started from an accidental observation, some time in the 1870s. Pelton was watching a spinning water turbine when the key holding its wheel onto its shaft slipped, causing it to become misaligned. Instead of the jet hitting the cups in their middle, the slippage made it hit near the edge; rather than the water flow being stopped, it was now deflected into a half-circle, coming out again with reversed direction. Surprisingly, the turbine now moved faster. That was Pelton's great discovery. In other turbines the jet hit the middle of the cup and the splash of the impacting water wasted energy."

As the story goes, Pelton was further inspired one day when chasing a stray cow from his landlady’s yard. He hit the cow on the nose with water and the water split, circled the cows nostrils and came out at the outer edge. This gave him an idea. He rushed to his workshop and began to make a water wheel with split metal cups.  The wheel was proven to be the best and most efficient in a competition. The Nevada City Foundry began to manufacture the wheels and ship them all over the world.

The Pelton wheel introduced an entirely new physical concept to water turbine design (impulse as opposed to reaction), and revolutionized turbines adapted for high head sites. Up until this time, all water turbines were reaction machines that were powered by water pressure. Pelton's invention was powered by the kinetic energy of a high velocity water jet.

A patent was granted in 1889 to Pelton, and he later sold the rights to the Pelton Water Wheel Company of San Francisco.  Today Pelton wheels are used worldwide for hydroelectric power with not much change in design from the original wheels.  Later evolutions of the Pelton turbine were the Turgo turbine, first patented by in 1919 by Gilkes, and the Banki turbine.  Pelton was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.  His invention is on display in museums throughout the world, including the Smithsonian.

Pelton and his family are buried in Maple Grove Cemetery on Mason Road in Vermilion, Ohio.  His birthplace home has been fully restored by Tom and Jean Beach.  The Lester Allan Pelton Historical marker is located at Cuddeback Cemetery, Risden and Lake Roads, Vermilion Township.  The marker reads: "Lester Allan Pelton" Lester Allan Pelton, "the Father of Hydroelectric Power," was born on September 5, 1829, a quarter of a mile northwest of this site. He spent his childhood on a farm a mile south of this site and received his early education in a one-room schoolhouse that once sat north of this site. In the spring of 1850, he and about twenty local boys, left for California during the great gold rush west. Pelton did not find gold, but instead invented what was commonly known as "the Pelton Water-Wheel," which produced the first hydroelectric power in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California in 1887. The Water-Wheel was patented on August 27, 1889. Currently variations of it are still commonly used to generate electric power throughout the world. Pelton died in California on March 14, 1908. He is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Vermilion. 

Capt. Austin & The Friendship Schooner

During the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s many Connecticut residents were burned out of their homes by the raiding British. To compensate these citizens for their losses, the Connecticut Assembly awarded the "Sufferers" 500,000 acres in the western most portion of the Western Reserve, which came to be known as the Firelands.  Settlement was slow due to the remoteness of the tract and the difficulties in reaching it.  Capt. William Austin, of New London Connecticut, was one of the first settlers in Vermilion.  He arrived with his family in 1809 and built a home a half mile west of the mouth of the Vermillion River which flows into Lake Erie.  His wife, Elizabeth, was the first white woman in Vermilion.

The greater part the lake’s southern shore was at one time occupied by a tribe of Indians called the Eries. The word translates to ‘cat’, likely in reference to the wild cat or panther that once roamed the area.  The lake was referred to as “Lake of the Cat” by the Indians.  Vermilion was named by Native Americans for the red clay along the river banks.  Oulanie Thepy (Red Creek) in the Indian’s language was translated by early French explorers as “Vermilion River.”

Capt. William Austin was a man of energy and built the first schooner along the river in 1812. She was the “Friendship”, a schooner of the times, about a fifty footer registered at 57 tons in Cleveland in 1817. Where the ship was built is not exactly known but the builders chose a flat place along the riverside. This most certainly had to be near the foot of Huron Street where the later shipyard stood when ship building became the main industry in the village. Small schooners were ideal for scudding along the lake shore bringing in supplies from Buffalo and other ports. They were as large as the natural river bars would allow and enough cargo capacity to supply the needs of the early settlements.

Mr. Austin, a Master Seaman, made nineteen trips a year to Newfoundland, Canada and Spain.  He was known for having visited every port on the globe.

Many settlers left the area during the War of 1812 and did not return until after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory over the British fleet.  Capt. Austin was not one of them.  He remained in Vermilion and sailed the famous “Friendship” during and after the War of 1812.  He carried soldiers to the battle on the Peninsula. This famous naval battle was fought in the waters of Lake Erie just a few miles from South Bass Island. It marks the only time in history that a British naval fleet ever surrendered and inspired the Star Spangled Banner and the song we know today as our National Anthem.

In 1821 Capt. Austin built the first stone house in Vermilion.  He opened the first public house at or near the mouth of the Vermillion River. The first religious meeting in Vermilion was held at his home.

The captain was a very genial man, but it was unsafe to cross him.  His rule aboard his ship was to have everything in its place.  Any deviation from this rule resulted in certain punishment.

He would never admit to flatteries and was as outspoken and abrupt as honest.  On one occasion when a man attempted to get favor by appealing to his pride, saying to him how obliging and clever a man he was, the captain replied, "CLEVER!, CLEVER! SO IS THE DEVIL SO LONG AS YOU PLEASE HIM."

He was a full believer in premonitions and warnings from unseen agents, and believed he was always warned of danger by a raving white horse in his dreams.

Around 1814 he was on his way to Detroit with several merchants as passengers.  It was a delightful Indian summer day.  On the way to the Islands the old white horse paid him a furious visit in his sleep, and about noon he tied up in Put- Away- Bay.  The passengers were indignant; fine day, fair wind, and nothing to hinder but the old man's obstinacy or laziness.  But he was immovable, not a foot would he stir out of the harbor that day.  Just after nightfall came a furious snow storm and gales which so frequently destroyed ships and numerous lives on Lake Erie. In the morning the deck was covered with a foot of snow, and the wind was blowing a hurricane outside the harbor.  His passengers were now very thankful for the escape, and the next day with a fair sky they landed safely in Detroit.

Once as he was returning to America, the ship making good way with a favorable wind, he retired after dinner and fell asleep.  The old white horse came, with mouth wide open and in great fury.  The captain bounded from his bunk, hastened to the deck, and sang out "about ship in an instant!" The order was instantly obeyed and when the ship rounded the fog, the breakers were less than eighty rods ahead, and the iron bound coast of Labrador in plain sight just beyond. Ten minutes more and "we would have never been heard of again" said the captain.

Under the protection of his white horse, Capt. Austin never met with a serious disaster, and had escaped very many.

28 years after Capt. Austin built the legendary “Friendship” schooner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the two piers at the mouth of the river which provided the bar depth builders needed to take crafts to sea. Thus began the "Golden Age" of ship building on the river, in tune with the great demand for shipping on the lakes. In a period of 36 years 48 large lake schooners were built.  This provided jobs and growth for the community.  The harbor was a beehive of activity and the sound of the maul on caulking iron was a musical note that rang throughout the valley.  The schooner was the "work horse" and a very important transportation means in the opening of the vast Great Lakes Country.  They reigned supreme until a new form of transportation arrived along shore, the steam railroad.

Capt. William Austin couldn't have known in 1812 that his ship would become a cherished symbol of a town that had not yet even been incorporated.  The “Friendship” schooner flies on Vermilion’s official flag and welcomes visitors on our city signage.

John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston was one of the most extraordinary men of the 19th century. Slim and debonair, and of mixed-raced parentage, Langston was highly educated, an expert in constitutional law, a community organizer and a gifted orator who sought to unify a divided country after the Civil War. He was the first African-American elected to a local office, winning the office of Clerk of Brownhelm Township on April 2, 1855.

Langston was the son of Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner, and Jane Langston, a black slave. After his parents died when Langston was five, he and his brothers moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to live with family friends. Langston enrolled in Oberlin College at age 14 and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the institution. Denied admission into law school, Langston studied law under attorney Philemon Bliss of Elyria. Langston became the first black lawyer in Ohio, passing the Bar in 1854.  He became actively involved in the antislavery movement, organizing antislavery societies locally and at the state level. He helped runaway slaves to escape to the North along the Ohio part of the Underground Railroad.

Langston married Caroline Wall, a senior in the literary department at Oberlin, settled in Brownhelm, OH and established a law practice. He quickly involved himself in town matters.  In 1855 Langston became the country's first black elected official when he was elected town clerk of the Brownhelm Township.


Langston moved to Oberlin in 1856 where he again involved himself in town government. From 1865 - 1867 he served as a city councilman and from 1867-1868 he served on the Board of Education. His law practice established and respected, Langston handled legal matters for the town. Langston vigilantly supported Republican candidates for local and national office. He is credited with helping to steer the Ohio Republican party towards radicalism and a strong antislavery position. He conspired with John Brown to raid Harpers Ferry.


Langston organized black volunteers for the Union cause. As chief recruiter in the West, he assembled the Massachusetts 54th, the nation's first black regiment, and the Massachusetts 55th and the 5th Ohio.  He was a founding member and president of the National Equal Rights League, which fought for black voting rights. During the Civil War Langston recruited African Americans to fight for the Union Army. After the war, he was appointed inspector general for the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal organization that helped freed slaves.  He was the first African American to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Selected by the Black National Convention to lead the National Equal Rights League in 1864, Langston carried out extensive suffrage campaigns in Ohio, Kansas and Missouri. Langston's vision was realized in 1867, with Congressional approval of suffrage for black males.


Langston moved to Washington, DC in 1868 to establish and serve as dean of Howard University's law school — the first black law school in the country. He was appointed acting president of the school in 1872. In 1877 Langston left to become U.S. minister to Haiti. He returned to Virginia in 1885 and was named president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University). In 1888 he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as an Independent. He lost to his Democratic opponent but contested the results of the election. After an 18-month fight, he won the election and served for six months.  Langston was the first black Congress member from Virginia and a diplomat. He lost his bid for reelection.


The town of Langston, Oklahoma, and Langston University, is named after him.  The John Mercer Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio, is named in his honor along with Langston Middle School in Oberlin, Ohio, the former John Mercer Langston High School in Danville, Virginia, and John M. Langston High School Continuation Program in Arlington, Virginia. His house in Oberlin is a National Historic Landmark.  Langston was the great-uncle of poet Langston Hughes.


It took 153 years to get from John Mercer Langston to Barack Hussein Obama, a journey that endured the dashed hopes of Reconstruction and the oppression of Jim Crow to arrive at a moment that has stunned even those optimistic about America's racial progress.


The John Mercer Langston Ohio Historical Marker is located at Brownhelm High School, 1940 North Ridge Road, Vermilion, Ohio.  The marker reads:
"John Mercer Langston" The first African-American elected to government office in the United States, John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) won the office of Clerk of Brownhelm Township on April 2, 1855. Born in Virginia and raised in Chillicothe, Langston graduated from Oberlin College in 1849 and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854, becoming Ohio's first black attorney. He served as the first president of the National Equal Rights League in 1864, and subsequently as professor of law, dean, and acting president of Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1890, he became Virginia's first black congressman. Throughout his career Langston set a personal example of self-reliance in the struggle for justice for African-Americans. 

Phoebe Judson: Pioneer

Phoebe Goodell Judson grew up in Vermillion, Ohio.  Her pioneer story begins when she married her husband Holden Allen Judson. After three years of matrimony they both decided "to obtain from the government of The United States a grant of land that "Uncle Sam" had promised to give to the head of each family who settled in this new country."  With this the Judson's set out to pursue the vast uncultivated wilderness of the Puget Sound, which at that time was a part of Oregon. They departed March 1,1853. As Pheobe Judson recollects, "The time set for departure was March 1st, 1853. Many dear friends gathered to see us off. The tender "good-byes' were said with brave cheers in the voices, but many tears from the hearts."

Born Phoebe Newton Goodell on October 25, 1831, Phoebe was born in Ancaster, Canada, the second eldest of eleven children with her twin sister Mary Weeks Goodell, and named after her father's sister, Phebe Goodell.  Her parents were Jotham Weeks "J. W." Goodell, a Presbyterian minister descended from British colonists, and Anna Glenning "Annie" Bacheler.  In 1837 her family emigrated to Vermilion, Ohio, where she and her siblings where raised.

On June 20, 1849, at the age of 17, Phoebe married Holden Allen Judson (born mid-1827), with whom she had grown up. (Holden's only sibling, Lucretia "Trecia" Judson, had been a close friend of Phoebe's in Vermilion.) The Judsons lived in Holden's parents' home in Vermilion. Their first child, Anna "Annie" Judson, was born the following year.

Following the Donation Land Claim Act, the Goodells traveled to the Oregon Territory in 1851, leaving Phoebe and her elder brother William behind. Phoebe's twin sister Mary and her fiancé Nathan W. Meloy settled in Willamette, Oregon and J. W. Goodell named and established the town of Grand Mound, Washington with his wife and younger children, where he took up a job as postmaster and part-time minister alongside George Whitworth.

Inspired by her family, and Holden's desire for independence from his parents, Phoebe set off for the month-old Washington Territory with Holden and Annie on March 1, 1853, a few days following her brother William's wedding to Maria Austin, both of whom would take the same Westward route the following year and witness the Ward Massacre.  They left Ohio and, traveling on the Overland Trail once they passed Kansas City, made their way west with a small party of others.  The journey in and of itself was an adventure given the primitive conditions and threat of an Indian attack. But late in June the party did pause for a day at La Bonta Creek in southeastern Wyoming when Phoebe gave birth to a son, Charles LaBonta Judson.  

Phoebe Judson was the first non-Indian woman to settle in the Lynden area and became known as the "Mother of Lynden" during the half century that she lived there.

Pioneering in Washington Territory

The Judsons arrived at their new home in Grand Mound (Thurston County) in October 1853.  About 1856 they moved to near Claquato (Lewis County) and late in 1858 moved to Olympia when Holden was elected to the territorial legislature on the Democratic ticket.  They would remain in Olympia for nearly eight years. Holden served at least two terms in the legislature, and subsequently operated a store in Olympia.  

In 1866 the Judsons moved to Whidbey Island, where Holden may have operated another store.  By the end of the 1860s, their biological family was complete. They had four children: Annie (1850-1937), Charles (1853-1933), George (1859-1891), and Mary "Mollie" (1862-1894). (A fifth child, Carrie, died of whooping cough one month and one day after birth in 1869.) But note the distinction "biological family," because the Judsons would subsequently adopt an additional 11 children.  

On March 1, 1870, the Judsons left Whidbey Island, bound for Lynden. They traveled by the steamer Mary Woodruff to Whatcom (now part of Bellingham), then obtained three canoes, with two Indians apiece, to paddle, pole, and portage them up the Nooksack River to Lynden.   

The Judsons moved into a rough log cabin that they had acquired in an unusual trade with Colonel James Alexander Patterson, the first white settler in Lynden. Patterson had built the cabin in 1860, and he and his Native American wife had lived there for most of the decade. But at some point in the late 1860s his wife left him, and he began to search for a foster home for his two young daughters.  By this time he was a frequent visitor to the Judson’s home on Whidbey Island. Patterson made an offer to the Judsons that he would swap his home and land in what was then known among the settlers as "Nooksack" or "Nootsack" if the Judsons would care for his two daughters, Dollie (age 7 in March 1870) and Nellie (age 4 in March 1870) until they came of age. The Judsons agreed, and Patterson executed a quitclaim deed to his land in favor of Phoebe Judson in March 1870.  

The Judsons settled into what Phoebe Judson would famously refer to as her "ideal home." It was located just south of 6th and Front streets, near the southwestern edge of today’s Judson Street Alley, and had a view of the Nooksack River, which at the time ran farther north than it does today. Holden became postmaster of Lynden in 1873, and Phoebe was asked to select the name of the new town. She chose a name that she had heard from a poem, Hohenlinden, written by Thomas Campbell, which begins "On Linden, when the sun was low ..." But she changed the "i" in Linden to "y" because she felt it looked prettier.

Aunt Phoebe, the Mother of Lynden

Since Phoebe Judson was the first white woman in Lynden, she became known as the "Mother of Lynden," and her presence in the community was established. Almost from the beginning she was called "Aunt Phoebe," someone you went to when you needed something, be it a pail of buttermilk or help during childbirth. She also became known for writing letters to the Bellingham Bay Mail during the 1870s, describing the joys of life as a "Pioneer’s Wife," as she usually signed her letters.  

But she was more that that.  She took a considerably more active role in the community than did many women of the day.  During the 1870s log jams plagued the Nooksack River, preventing steamers from making their way upriver to Lynden.  One of the biggest jams was downriver from Lynden, near what is today Ferndale.  In March 1876 Phoebe began to solicit funds for the removal of the jam. Aided by a $50 donation from Holden, $1,500 was raised by the end of April from settlers in Sehome and Whatcom (both now part of Bellingham) as well as from settlers along the river.  Phoebe also suggested that the man who donated the most work on the jam be given votes for a county office. History doesn’t record whether or not this happened, but work on the jam began, and it was gone by early 1877.  

Phoebe’s son George Judson platted Lynden in 1884, and as the town site developed, the Judsons donated parts of their land for churches, schools, a printing office, a blacksmith shop, and for various private purposes. They also built the Judson Opera House in the late 1880s, and when it was completed in 1889 it became the community nexus for lectures, entertainment, and celebrations.  

Phoebe has been described as a gregarious crusader for many causes.  Known as religious, she took an active role in her opposition to saloons in early-day Lynden. But she is also known for taking an active role in the early development of its churches and schools. She arguably became more well-known than her husband, Holden, perhaps because she outlived him by 26 years and had the opportunity to accomplish more, and perhaps also because of her book of her life, A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home, which was first published in 1925, the year before her death.

During the 1880s the Judsons moved to a new two-story frame home on the north side of Front Street, midway between 5th and 6th streets.  Holden died there on October 26, 1899, and Phoebe peacefully passed away there on January 16, 1926, having remained physically active and mentally alert until the time of her death.  Services were held two days later, and the entire city of Lynden shut down to mark the occasion:  Stores were closed, schools were dismissed, and hundreds of people from miles around made the pilgrimage to pay final tribute to the "Mother of Lynden."

The Simon Kenton Boulder

One of the first explorers of the Vermilion area was Simon Kenton (April 3, 1755 - April 29, 1836,) a famous United States frontiersman and friend of the renowned Daniel Boone, the infamous Simon Girty, and the valiant Spencer Records.

Simon Kenton was born in the Bull Run Mountains, Prince William County, Virginia to Mark Kenton Sr. (an immigrant from Ireland) and Mary Miller Kenton. In 1771, at the age of 16, thinking he had killed a man in a jealous rage, he fled into the wilderness of Kentucky and Ohio, and for years went by the name "Simon Butler."

Kenton served as a scout against the Shawnee in 1774 in the conflict between Native Americans and European settlers later labeled Dunmore's War. In 1777, he saved the life of his friend and fellow frontiersman, Daniel Boone, at Boonesborough, Kentucky. The following year, Kenton was in turn rescued from torture and death by Simon Girty.

Kenton served on the famous 1778 George Rogers Clark expedition to capture Fort Sackville and also fought with "Mad" Anthony Wayne in the Northwest Indian War in 1793-94.

In 1782, he returned to Virginia and found out the victim had lived and readopted his original name.

In 1784 Kenton chiseled his name, S. Kenton 1784, on a boulder about 2 miles south of the Vermilion River mouth on the southern border of the old Rossman farm in a spot about 600' east of the State Road.

Presumably, Kenton marked the boulder to substantiate his claim to a 4 square mile area surrounding the river mouth, a likely settlement someday. Kenton claimed similar areas throughout the State but lost his claims due to his lack of education. He was too early and too ignorant of drawing up legal claims of his discoveries.

We do have the satisfaction of knowing that he was the first to find and realize that the Vermilion River would some day be the nucleus of a growing community. How right he was!

In 1937 the Vermilion Centennial "Stone Committee" discovered the stone. The stone now stands as a memorial to Kenton at the Ritter Library.

Kenton moved to Urbana, Ohio in 1810, and achieved the rank of brigadier general of the Ohio militia. He served in the War of 1812 as both a scout and as leader of a militia group in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

Simon Kenton had 6 children in his second marriage. Kenton died in New Jerusalem, Ohio (in Logan County) and was first buried there. His body was later moved to Urbana, Ohio.

He died a poor man and might have been governor if he had had the proper background. As it was, though, he was an outstanding explorer in the Ohio wilderness and his efforts added considerably to the opening of the country to the settlers.

The Haunting History of Gore Orphanage & Swift's Hollow

It's a nightmarish scene in the countryside of Vermilion on Gore Road over one hundred years ago.  A gigantic fire engulfs an old orphanage burning dozens of young children alive.  Desperate to escape the inferno, the children on the second floor found the stairs blocked by flames.  Dreadful screams of the children trapped inside the blazing building pierce the ears of horrified onlookers unable to stop the carnage.  The deadly destruction continues until the screams finally fall silent and the only sound that lingers is the crackling and roar of the hellish flames. The smoke ascends into the night sky, carrying with it the souls of over 100 poor orphan children. The building is soon reduced to a pile of  glowing embers with only a remnant of the foundation and stone pillars forever preserved for future generations to happen upon.

Were the spirits of the helpless children extinguished with the flames, or do they still cry out in the middle of the night  from beyond the grave?  Do the lost souls wander the area, forever tortured by a reality too difficult to accept?  Was the  fire sparked by an orphan boy dropping a lamp? Or perhaps it was intentionally set by Old Man Gore, the abusive man who ran the institution, for insurance or just plain sadistic torture?

So is the legend of Gore Orphanage.

The Real Story of Gore Orphanage & Swift's Hollow

For over a century visitors to Gore Orphanage Road have reported strange experiences of glowing lights, apparitions and  chilling cries of unseen children.  The area is said to be one of the most haunted locations in Ohio.


Despite the inaccuracies of the Gore Orphanage legend, the true tale of the institution and the Swift's Hollow mansion are more haunting than fiction.  Over the course of time, three tales of terror have been woven into one horrific legend of torture, fire and the paranormal.

Light of Hope, the actual name of the orphanage, was established in 1902 by a religious zealot named Reverend Johann Sprunger.  The orphanage was located on Gore Road.  The road was originally laid out along the boundary line dividing Lorain County from its western neighbor, Huron County. When a surveying error was discovered, a thin strip of land resembling the gore of  a dress had to be annexed to Lorain.  Due to the popular association of the institution with the road, the name of the street came to be known as Gore Orphanage Road - a fitting name for the location of a now infamous orphanage with a hellish history.

Johann Sprunger and his wife Katharina moved to the Vermilion area after their former orphanage in Berne, Indiana was destroyed by fire.  Katharina was the daughter of Christian P. Sprunger.  Though no explanation has ever been given regarding Katharina's surname being the same as her husband, a diary of a worker at the former Light of Hope Orphanage in Berne states that the orphanage was run by "Brother and Sister Sprunger."  Three orphan girls were reported to have perished in the original Light of Hope fire.  Two of Sprunger's former Indiana businesses had also ended by fire.  Prior to moving to Ohio the couple also lost their seven year old daughter, Hillegonda, and a son, Edmund, died at birth. The deaths appeared to spark a passionate obsession for religious pursuits in the couple.

The new orphanage site, just outside of Vermilion, consisted of four sets of farm buildings and covered 543 acres.  An abandoned mansion was also located on the property.  The once magnificent Greek revival house was built in the mid-nineteenth century by Joseph Swift, a successful farmer. Its many rooms were appointed with elaborate furnishings, ornate woodwork, marble columns, and other lavish decorations.  But to the Swift mansion soon came bad luck.  In 1831, Swift's 5 year-old daughter Tryphenia died.  In 1841, Swift's 24 year-old son, Heman, also died.  Soon after Swift's fortunes dried up due to poor investments in the railroad business.  He sold the home to Nicholas Wilber, a renowned Spiritualist. Mysterious rituals and seances were said to be held regularly in the secluded mansion home conjuring up the spirits of deceased children.  The ghosts of children were said to appear frequently at the seances held in a special room of the home.  Wilber's children were rumored to be psychic and could communicate with the ghosts of dead children.  While records and gravestones claim that four Wilber grandchildren died from a diphtheria epidemic after the Wilbers moved from the home, residents insisted that they died at the Swift mansion and were buried there.  The home was abandoned in 1901, and teenagers almost immediately began taking trips to the site, daring each other to enter the infamous haunted home.

Reverend Sprunger did not utilize the abandoned home for the new orphanage. Instead, he attempted to build a new, self-sustaining religious community on the property. He and his co-workers were devout Bible-believing Christian people.  A chapel room was located in the boy’s schoolhouse for frequent religious ceremonies.  Up to one hundred and twenty children were inmates of  the orphanage at one time. Boys lived at a farm called the Hughes farm and girls at the Howard farm.  The orphanage also housed a small printing press used to print their own school books, as well as a paper entitled "Light of Hope."

But rumors of darkness and despair soon plagued the Light of Hope orphanage.  Orphan children ran away from the home, often wading through the Vermilion River to escape to Vermilion.  The children told horrific stories of abuse, neglect and slave labor.  The children were said to eat a diet of calves lungs, hog heads and sick cattle - if they were fed at all.  Corn was boiled in the same pot used to boil soiled underwear.  Although there were cows on the farm, children were said to often only be given butter once a week and occasionally pepper or sugar.

The children's rooms were infested with rats and vermin. On occasions, rats crawled onto the beds and bit children while they lay asleep.  There was said to be only one bath tub for the boys, which they were allowed to use once every two weeks and had to use the same water.

Children told stories of Sprunger and the farm overseers beating them with a strap until great raw welts appeared on their bodies. Sprunger would also rent out the inmates of the home to neighboring farmers.

Illnesses and disease were alleged to be treated only by prayers.  Witnesses stated the children received a lack of regular schooling.

In 1909 an investigation was conducted, but because the State of Ohio had no laws or regulations pertaining to the operation of such institutions, nothing formally could be done about conditions at the orphanage.  The Sprunger's admitted to much of the allegations against them.

Shortly before the investigation, in 1908, a disaster took place in the town of Collinwood, some forty miles east of Vermilion. 176 elementary school students were burned or  trampled to death when they became trapped in a stampede situation and couldn’t escape a fire that was consuming their school.  The children began descending down the stairs to the exit after the fire alarm was sounded, but the front stairwell was blocked by flames. According to witnesses, the children at the front broke from the lines and tried "to fight their way back to the floor above, while those who were coming down shoved them mercilessly back into the flames below." Those who made it to the rear exit found it locked. Outside rescuers unlocked it but found it opened inward, so it was impossible to move against the press of dozens of  desperate bodies.  The fire swept through the hall, springing from one child to another, catching their hair and the dresses of the girls. The cries of the children were dreadful and haunting.  The school's janitor, a German-American named Herter, was accused of setting the blaze (though he  lost four children in the fire and was badly burned trying to rescue one), and for a time he was detained in protective custody to keep residents from lynching him.

The horrific tale of  this event is thought to have been relocated when families of the Collinwood area (now East Cleveland) moved further west of Cleveland.  Some historians believe the horrid memories of such an event were too disturbing for Collinwood residents to bare and were thus "relocated" outside the area.  What better place for the terrifying memories to descend than the already legendary site of Swift’s Hollow and Gore Orphanage.   In fact, the tragedy brought about the end of the town of Collinwood.  As a result of the incident, unable to sufficiently guarantee fire safety resources for its residents, voters approved an annexation of Collinwood into Cleveland within two years of the fire.

Mr. Sprunger died two years after the investigation, and the doors of the orphanage permanently closed in July of 1916 after years of financial troubles. Pelham Hooker Blossom of Cleveland bought the Orphanage property, leased it to farmers for a period, then finally sold the land.  The Hughes House is all that remains of the Sprunger property. Part of the orphanage buildings burned and the rest were torn down.

The children of the Light of Hope orphanage were dispersed throughout the community or returned to their relatives or guardians and the nightmare was over for the children of the Gore Orphanage.  Many were too afraid to recount the conditions they endured at the institution. The few that had nowhere else to go were taken back to Berne, Indiana by Mrs. Sprunger.  It was exactly 13 years after it had first opened.

Swift’s Hollow is the location most often visited by those seeking a taste of the supernatural. A graffiti covered sandstone column marks the entrance of the area, which contains the foundations of this once magnificent mansion.  Today all that remains of the Swift Mansion are sandstone blocks from its foundation. Located deep in the woods, these remnants are now scrawled with graffiti left behind by late night visitors. They stand in the forest like guide stones for all those daring enough to seek an experience of the legend of the Gore Orphanage.

The Swift's Hallow mansion was never used as part of the orphanage. Instead it became a Mecca for late night vandals, and it is presumed that one of them was responsible for burning the house down in late 1923.  Early legend held that Mr. Wilbur helped the Sprunger's build the Light of Hope orphanage after loosing his own grandchildren.  Mrs. Wilbur was said to have gone insane over the tragedy.

Stories were told that she'd set the table three times a day and passed food to the children as if they were sitting there.  At night she would light a lamp and say, "Time for bed, children come on," and then she'd put the kids to bed.  Some said the children were psychic and could bring children back after they died.

In the early 1900's teenagers began to visit the home. In time they began to take their first automobiles to Gore Road to attempt to get them up the steep ravine without stalling and to negotiate the sharp curves without crashing. The true test of  bravery though was to enter the Swift Mansion at night and prove you weren't afraid of the haunted house.

The location of the orphanage is on Gore Orphanage Road approximately 1/4 mile north of Rosedale just across the small Vermilion River Bridge. It is just past the spot where Gore Orphanage and Sperry Roads meet in the hollow. The remnants of the orphanage cannot be seen from the road, but substantial remains abut Sperry Road hill.

Though there is no proof that any deaths actually occurred at the "Gore Orphanage" or Swift's Hollow, the chilling memories of torture, abuse and occult activity are haunting in their own rite.  Perhaps the lost souls of the children of Collinwood did descend upon the infamous area where many of the living are known to go in search of the spirits of forgotten children.  Perhaps they seek the ghosts of the Wilber children to be brought back to the land of the living.

Paranormal investigators say the ghosts of Gore Orphanage Road may actually be esoteric "imprints" - a kind of snapshot in time. Frequently, violent or traumatic events seem to release an energy that imprints the action on a place or object. In this kind of haunting, incidents repeats themselves like a videotape rewound and played over and over again. These hauntings can be seen, heard, felt or even smelled. Tragic imprints can even "relocate" themselves to other areas of high paranormal energy.

Reverend Sprunger's body was buried in a cemetery in Indiana, but some say his soul still wanders the grounds of the Light of Hope religious compound he founded on Gore Orphanage.  Katharina Sprunger moved back to Indiana in 1916 and never returned to the area, at least not prior to her death in 1953.

Ghostly apparitions, balls of lights, haunting screams of children and visions of fire have been reported by many a visitor to Gore Orphanage Road.  Many claim to have found the dusty fingerprints of children when returning to their cars.  Whatever the true story of Gore Orphanage, there's little doubt that it has well earned its reputation as the most haunted area in Ohio.

Vermilion History

Native Americans

History tells us that the Erie Indians lived along the south shore of Lake Erie until their murderous extinction by the warlike Iroquois from upper New York State in 1655. Then around 1700 the Ottawas, Hurons (Wyandottes) and Chippewas gradually returned to the area for furs to sell to the French traders until they too were pushed out of their hunting and trapping grounds by the pioneering white man. Few Indians remained by 1800. One historian said, "Lake Shore Ohio was an Indian borderland. Indian habitation was a nervous, restless one punctuated by wars, international rivalries and disasters."

Prior to the first white settler in the Vermilion country we know little about the natives living along the river; we do know that they encamped along the river because it was there, and provided a friendly place to live, food from the stream and game from the woods and swamp. But the river was the main enticement that caused the Indians to settle along the highlands near the river. Fish easily caught from the stream provided a necessity of life. The river was the key to livability in the rugged and wild life of the native.

Linwood Park was a main village of the original Vermilionites in those far away years. Many relics were collected by a long time resident, Walter Ziegler, during his years there. Further up the river on the east bank beyond the railroads, Indian bones were unearthed in the construction of Vermilion Road. Other artifacts such as arrowheads, knives and tomahawks have been found throughout the township and village. The remains are now in collections and are faint flickers of Indian life most of us have forgotten in this modern world. In retrospect, these durable mementos leave us with a sense of primitive perseverance and respect for the Indian.

Early Explorers


The French Period, 1669-1762


French names abound from Vermilion westward: La Chapelle Creek, Huron River, Portage River, La Carne, La Carpe Creek, La Toussaint River, etc. Vermilion itself is of French derivation - vermilion, meaning red of course. Yet very little is known about French exploration along the south shore of Lake Erie.

Sanson's map of 1656 names and outlines the lake with reasonable accuracy, no doubt from Indian descriptions. It wasn't actually "discovered" until 1669 when Adrien Jolliet traversed the north shore west to east. That year two missionaries met Jolliet who told them of his passage on the lake. They recorded their visit to Lake Erie at Grand River near Long Point, where they spent the winter.

On March 23, 1670, they erected a cross and took possession of our area in the name of the King of France. Francois Dollier de Casson and René de Bréhant de Galinée claimed possession of the area for France, on the basis that it was non-occupied. Their claim consisted of a certificate that they attached at the foot of the cross, along with the coat of arms of the King of France. A transcript of what they wrote on the certificate was sent to the King.  Later, at the time of discussions between France and England in 1687, the French government sent the above transcript and Galinée's map to London as incontestable proof of France's rights to Lake Erie, Ontario, and the surrounding territory.

On the 26th of March, the explorers launched their canoes and paddled toward the west, hugging the north shore and camping each night on the beach. After 250 kilometers of paddling they reached the mouth of the Detroit River. Galinée honestly reported "Je ne marque que ce que j'ai vu. I note only what I've seen." He saw Point Pelee and the northernmost of the islands in western Lake Erie."

Dollier de Casson and Galinée, and many who followed later, purposely avoided the south shore because it was controlled by the Iroquois who had killed or driven out the Erie Indians in 1655 and who were mortal enemies of the French.  Even as late as 1755, Bellin, engineer of the King for the French navy and drafter of an excellent map of the Great Lakes, inscribed the south shore of Lake Erie with the phrase "Toute cette coste n'est presque pas connue. All this shore is almost unknown."

With the fall of Quebec in 1759 and the ceding of New France to England in 1763, Lake Erie and Vermilion came under the rule of the King of England. Thus ended the French period with little or no written history of our area.  Except for the ever remindful place names, probably given by coureurs du bois and voyageurs, not noted for their education or for recording their travels with maps or by the written word, we would never know that we are a former French jurisdiction which lasted over 90 years.

Pioneer's Life in the Wilderness

"We do not at all appreciate, we can hardly conceive, the inconvenience, the want, the suffering, the 'hard times' of the early settlers. Sickness added greatly to their hardships. Ague, 'chill fever,' and other malarial diseases incident to the opening of a new country, were prevalent. Sometimes whole families were prostrated, and often scarcely anyone remained in health to take care of the sick. Wild animals were annoying. Wolves, bears and foxes endangered their sheep, pigs and poultry, and deer, raccoon and wild turkeys damaged their crops. No roads, no mills, no markets and very scanty supplies at high prices of those articles of necessity, which had to be obtained from the East. Skins, furs and articles of food, from the necessity of the case, were used as legal tender. In fact, such was an early territorial law of Ohio. In 1792 a law was adopted regulating fees of civil officers, in which was the provision, 'That whereas the dollar varies in value in the several counties of the territory, some provision in kind ought to be made; therefore, be it enacted that for every cent allowed by this act, a quart of Indian corn may be demanded and taken by the person to whom the fee is coming as an equivalent for a cent, and at the same rate for a greater or less sum.' Taxes were not high, but it was difficult to pay them. Farm products brought but little return to labor. No markets. No markets."

The First White Men

We do not have any direct evidence of early explorers or trappers passing or living along the riverside. But we know that they passed this way along the south shore of Lake Erie as a small boat cruising along the shore was the way adventurers traveled, it was the only practical way.

One of the first explorers we know of and have solid evidence indicating that he was in Vermilion was Simon Kenton. He chiseled his name, S. Kenton 1784, on a boulder about 2 miles south of the river mouth on the southern border of the old Rossman farm in a spot about 600' east of the State Road. In 1937 the Centennial "Stone Committee" found it and took pictures. The stone now stands as a memorial to Kenton at the Ritter Library. Presumably, Kenton marked the boulder to substantiate his claim to a 4 square mile area surrounding the river mouth, a likely settlement someday. Kenton claimed similar areas throughout the State but lost his claims due to his lack of education. He was too early and too ignorant of drawing up legal claims of his discoveries. He died a poor man and might have been governor if he had had the proper background. As it was, though, he was an outstanding Indian fighter and explorer in the Ohio wilderness and his efforts added considerably to the opening of the country to the settlers. We do have the satisfaction of knowing that he was the first to find and realize that the Vermilion River would some day be the nucleus of a growing community. How right he was!

Settlers & Incorporation

"Settling In"


Between 1808 and 1811 the first settlers struggled into the Township to claim land already surveyed by Almon Ruggles.  The area was part of a tract offered by the State of Connecticut to the Fire Sufferers whose property had been plundered by the British during the Revolutionary War. A section of Connecticut's Western Reserve, it was appropriately called the Firelands. And using the name the Indians had given the river; the Firelands Company named Township No. 6, Range 20, Vermilion.  However, so many years had passed and so much red tape was involved that most new arrivals were not the original Fire Sufferers, but those who had bought out claims of others.  The first to arrive from the East was William Hoddy (or Haddy), who came alone from Connecticut, built his cabin by the mouth of the river and then returned East for his family. So far as is known he did not come back into the area.

The following year the William Austins and Horatio Perry families arrived from New York; the George and John Sherods from Connecticut and Pennsylvania; and the Enoch Smiths from Connecticut. The Austins settled on the west bank of the river, the Sherods on land now known as Sherod Park. Sometime later in the year the Justin Thompson family came into the Township from Connecticut and settled on the Ridge.

Almon Ruggles came in with his family in 1810, as did Solomon Parsons, Benjamin Brooks, Barlow Sturges, Deacon John Beardsley and James Cuddeback. Peter Cuddeback and others came in 1811. According to the Firelands Pioneer, most came with teams.

As with the history of most settlements, the "firsts" have been carefully recorded:

The first house (cabin) was erected by the mouth of the river by William Hoddy in 1808; the first birth, John Sherod in 1809; the first marriage, Catherine Sherod to Burt Martin in 1814; the first frame house was Peter Cuddeback's (near the corner of Lake and Risden Roads) in 1818; the first stone house was William Austin's in 1821 and the first brick house was Horatio Perry's. The first commissioned Postmaster was Judge Almon Ruggles and the first doctor was Doctor Strong, although the first resident doctor was Dr. James Quigley in 1837. The first attorney, O. A. Leonard, announced his residency the same year.

Barlow Sturges began the first trading post and hotel. And together with the Austin family he ran the first ferry service across the Vermilion River. The first school was taught by Miss Susan Williams in a cabin on the lakeshore, in 1813. At about the same time another school was in operation on the Ridge and taught by Miss Addie Harris.

In 1818 the first organized religious society, the Presbyterian Church (later Congregational) was established. Ten years later the congregation built the first church, in an area just off Risden Road. This was the expected center of population.

In 1818 the Township government was organized with the following officers: Almon Ruggles, clerk; Peter Cuddeback and James Prentice, judges of election; Francis Keyes, John Beardsley and Rufus Judson, trustees; Jeramiah Van Ben Schoten and Horatio Perry, fence viewers; Peter Cuddeback lister and appraiser; Stephen Meeker, appraiser; Peter Cuddeback treasurer; George Sherod, Francis Keyes, William Van Ben Schoten and James Prentice, supervisors.

In the year 1820 the Vermilion township population was listed as 520.

Vermilion Village, 1837

With its clapboard buildings, giant maples and village square, Vermilion, at the time of incorporation, had the look of a typical New England hamlet. The little harbor community had just 43 land owners.  Several shops were now situated on Main, Columbus and Liberty Streets. Just a year before, a new warehouse had been erected near the shipping docks. To the left were the fish shanties, and to the right, a saw mill. Business was flourishing at Mr. Burton Goodsell's shipyards located on the riverbank between Lake and Ferry Streets, and in this particular year, the sounds of hammers and saws told of the construction of the steamboat Vermilion.  The village plat was completed in January and by a special act of the Ohio Legislature, Vermilion was incorporated and granted a charter.

The Pelton Wheel

Along with other "firsts", a mention should be made of Vermilion's first inventor, Lester Allen Pelton.  In 1849, he along with several young Vermilion men, made the long trek to California in search of gold. Although he never discovered his gold, Pelton later invented the Pelton Water Wheel which accounts say "meant more to the State of California that all the gold in the hills."  A handyman, carpenter and millwright, he built a small shed in the backyard of his landlady's house in the gold mining town of Camptonville, California, and spent his evenings tinkering with small experimental wheels. He hoped to harness water from the mountain streams for gold mining companies. He devised 40 models, including one that powered the landlady's sewing machine.  From this evolved his unique wheel that harnessed waterpower by a system of "water splitting." A model is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  By 1895, 850 companies were using his improved wheel. The Pacific Coast and Electric Company in 1980 was operating 53 Pelton Wheels.

Mr. Pelton was born in the Risden Road home still occupied by his descendants, Mr. and Mrs. William Kishman. He was a student in the little Cuddebach School No. 2. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Vermilion.

Brownhelm Township

According to the William's History of Lorain County the first settler of Township No. 6, Range 19 (Brownhelm) lying along Lake Erie and then a part of Huron County, was Col. Henry Brown from Stockbridge, Mass. who arrived about 1816. He was accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey, William Alverson, William Lincoln, Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley, who assisted Col. Brown in building his house, a log house near the lake shore. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter, the others remained on the grounds. The Township is named in honor of the leader of the original colony.

In later years Mr. Whittlesey became distinguished as a general in the Civil War, as an archaeologist and historian. He was the founder of the Western Reserve Historical Society and its president for many years. Peter Pease became the first settler of Oberlin. On July 4th, 1817 the families of Levi Shepard, Sylvester Barnum and Stephen James arrived and were the first families to settle in the town. During the same year the families of Solomon Whittlesey, Alva Curtis, Benjamin Bacon and Ebenezer Scott arrived. In 1818 the families of Col. Brown, Grandison Fairchild, Anson Cooper, Elisha Peck, George Bacon, Alfred Avery, Enos Cooley, Orrin Sage, John Graham and others arrived. The first frame house was built by Benjamin Bacon; the first brick house by Grandison Fairchild in the summer of 1819. Until October 1818 the town was part of Black River; it was then organized as a separate township. Officers were Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis, trustees; Anson Cooper, clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace. Lorain County was formed on December 26, 1822 with Brownhelm as a part. In 1827 Henry Warner started the Brownhelm quarry. Blocks were hauled on wagons to Vermilion where they were shipped via schooner.

In 1819 Mrs. Alverson opened a school in her house; in the fall of 1819 an 18 x 22 foot school was built on the brow of the hill (North Ridge Rd. and Claus Rd.) in the settlement and was named Strut Street School. In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on N. Ridge Rd. The first class of nine -- 5 boys and 4 girls graduated in 1889.  Brownhelm could also boast of a U.S. Post Office from November 6, 1878 to March 31, 1912 and a train station located at Brownhelm Station Rd, and Sunnyside Rd.

In the late 1950s the residents of Brownhelm voted to change zoning to permit the Ford Plant to build and, after losing the plant to Lorain in a heated court case, petitioned the Village of Vermilion for annexation. On December 21, 1959 the Village of Vermilion passed legislation to accept the petition and approximately 4,300 acres of Brownhelm Township, including Elberta Beach, became a part of Vermilion Village.

Vermilion River & Industries

The Development of the River


Captain William Austin was a man of energy and built the first schooner along the river in 1812. She was the FRIENDSHIP, a schooner of the times, about a fifty footer registered at 57 tons in Cleveland in 1817. Solomon Parsons built the second schooner, the VERMILION, in 1814 and registered in Detroit at 36 tons about 40 feet. Where these ships were built is not exactly known but the builders chose a flat place along the riverside. This most certainly had to be near the foot of Huron Street where the later shipyard stood when ship building became the main industry in the village. Small schooners were ideal for scudding along the lake shore bringing in supplies from Buffalo and other ports. They were as large as the natural river bars would allow and enough cargo capacity to supply the needs of the early settlements. The schooner was the "work horse" and a very important transportation means in the opening of the vast Great Lakes Country. They reigned supreme until a new form of transportation arrived along shore - the steam railroad.

In 1840 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished building the two piers at the mouth of the river which provided the bar depth builders needed to take crafts to sea. Thus began the "Golden Age" of ship building on the river, in tune with the great demand for shipping on the lakes. In a period of 36 years 48 large lake schooners were built. This provided jobs and growth for the community. The harbor was a beehive of activity and the sound of the maul on caulking iron was a musical note that rang throughout the valley.

One very interesting ship built in the Golden Age was the screw steamer INDIANA built by Burton S. Goodsell in 1848, the only screw steamer built in Vermilion. In June 1858 off Marquette, Michigan on Lake Superior she went down with a cargo of iron ore. Her loss was a mystery and was not explained until the Smithsonian Institute raised her in 1979; she had lost a blade from the four blade propeller and the subsequent vibration opened her wooden seams causing water to rush in and extinguish the boiler thus allowing her to sink. The Institute now has a fine exhibit in Washington, D.C. of the engine, boiler, propeller and other artifacts recovered in the salvage. The engine represents the finest original marine steam power plant in the country. This explains why the Smithsonian was anxious to recover the engine. The "Vermilion Display" is a permanent monument to ship building in Vermilion. No other city can boast such an honor on the lakes.

The Fishing Industry

With the abundance of fine fish in the lake plus the need for food, the early settlers took to the lake and shore with small boats and seines to reap the easy harvest. Soon they were sailing in deep water using gill-nets, trap-nets along shore to satisfy the market demand for fresh and salted fish. With the arrival of the trains the markets quickly expanded to the big cities. To meet this demand the steam tug emerged as the champion catcher of tons of delectable white fish, herring, pickerel and perch. Then came the powered net puller in 1900 making the steam tug the most efficient and profitable fishing method. The golden years were from 1890 to 1945 when the fish harvest on Lake Erie peaked making a lucrative livelihood for thousands of fisherman. Vermilion was home to the following commercial fish companies and their tugs:
  •     Kishman Fish Company
  •     Leiderheiser Fish Company
  •     Edson Fish Company
  •     Parsons Fish Company
  •     Driscoll Fish Company
  •     Southwest Fish Company
Before the steam tugs, sailing boats were used for gill-nets and pound nets. This period consisted of the very first commercial fishing around the port in the years between 1820 and 1880 when steam tugs began to appear in number.

The Stone Industry

In the 1860s and 1870s considerable sandstone was shipped out of the harbor in schooners or barges. Two quarries, Brownhelm and Berlin Heights, shipped stone by rail to town where it was switched to the docks running from Exchange to Toledo Streets. Steam derricks transferred the stone from cars to the ships. Prominent quarry operators of the period were: Orange A. Leonard & Company, Summers & Harteep, and Worthington & Sons. Much of the building stone was used in rebuilding Chicago after the big fire there in 1871.

The Lumber Business

Another lifeblood industry was lumbering. Prior to 1861 a large quantity of forest products, such as staves, ships' timber, firewood and furniture was shipped from the area. During the 1860s and 1870s a shortage of suitable timber developed in the immediate area surrounding the town. This made it necessary to import raw material. Throughout the period large quantities were shipped into the port in schooners from the upper lakes to be manufactured into sash, doors, blinds, molding, dressed flooring, siding and a variety of other related products. N. Fisher & Company was the largest dealer. They operated two scows (old schooners). Their steam mill was at the corner of Sandusky and Liberty Streets, the southwest corner. In 1876 Fisher & Company leased the lumber mill to J.C. Gilchrist & Company. They left Vermilion to establish a large steamship company. Some of their relatives stayed in the lumber business and are now operating in the Seattle country.

Furnaces on the River - Lime Burning

Sometime around 1840 a lime kiln was built along the riverfront just north of Huron Street. The exact location is several feet north of Dr. Stack's house on the lakeshore. This furnace was a typical burner with a square sandstone base supporting a large iron stack. Limestone shipped down from the islands was loaded at the top with a skip-hoist that ran from the dock to the stack top. Horse power was used to hoist the stone cart. The burning flooded the town in a northeast wind with burning wood tinged with a lime aroma but the natives accepted the haze as a fact of life. The burnt lime was used to plaster many a house along the south shore of Lake Erie.

Furnaces on the River - Iron

About 60 feet north of Huron Street along the riverfront were two stone foundations, round in shape 10' in diameter and 2' high. Around the foundations the ground was tinged red, the sign of iron ore. These two furnaces were the first stacks of the Geauga Iron Company of Painesville built in 1828-30. They had a dock and warehouse nearby on the river. Later they moved back on the ridge as the Huron Iron Company west of the State Road. This business operated for many years until coke made charcoal furnaces obsolete. The Huron Iron Company ceased operations in 1865.

The Present River

In 1916 there were two yachts docked permanently in the river owned by Vermilionites; one was the IONA, a 35' glass cabin cruiser and the other was TOBERMORY, a 45' bridge-deck cruiser. Later, Harry Hewitt owned the NOMAD, a 36' powerboat he docked by the bridge. These three were the only pleasure boats in the steam in those days. Prior to those years the Rocky River sailboats would race to Vermilion on Labor Day for the annual "Big Time" in the little fishing port. Many a yarn was coined about the big mosquitoes that buzzed along the river.

In 1916 the Vermilion Boat Club held their first South Shore Regatta, which attracted sailors from Toledo, Sandusky, Rocky River and Cleveland. Headquarters consisted of a tent in front of the waterworks. Free ice-cold lemonade was served to all yachtsmen. Many a river kid with the spirit of the day immediately became yachtsmen. It was a day to remember for the thousands of spectators that lined the docks and piers.

Currently the river supports some 8,500 yachts, small boats, many of them sail, which indicates some 350,000 passages. Sail for fun has replaced sail for work.

Industry

Aside from ship building, lumber, commercial fishing and the stone trade providing jobs along the riverfront, there have been several substantial enterprises formed in the town over the years. These have been basic living and growth industries essential for all communities:
  •     Duplex Hot Water Heating Company
  •     The F.W. Wakefield Brass Company
  •     Dall Motor Parts Company
  •     South Shore Packing Corp.
  •     The Ford Motor Company
  •     The Howard Stove Company
  •     The Peasley Woodworking Factory
  •     Lithonia Downlighting
  •     Bettcher Industries
  •     Schwensen Bakery
  •     The Maurer Dairy
  •     The Vermilion News
Railways

Rails through Town


With the first trains running through Vermilion starting in 1853, we have been hearing whistles ever since. In fact, our town has been a railroad town for a long time now, over 140 years of rumbling, roaring, shaking, screaming tornados rushing through the quiet village. Ships have come and gone but they were never the acoustic monsters like the trains which roll along like wild demons in a race; freight of all kinds flies through the city, and as far as we can foresee, it will continue for 140 more years. Such is life in a railroad town.

The Lake Shore Electric Railway

The first trolleys ran from Sandusky to Vermilion in 1899, an offshoot of the Sandusky Street Railway, the Sandusky & Interurban Electric Railway. City-style cars prowled the rails when it opened from Sandusky to Vermilion via Huron on July 26, 1899, a 24-mile sprint. Work gangs toiled eastward to meet the Lorain & Cleveland in Lorain, another 10-mile hop. The S & I was built with an expansive eye to the future -- double track provisions were engineered into all bridges as well as into the roadbed. It was a combination roadside and private right-of-way operation. In the autumn of 1901, the Everett-Moore Syndicate absorbed the S & I and others to create the Lake Shore Electric Railway.

Recreation

Linwood Park (so named for its Linden trees)


The year 2002 marks the 118th birthday of Linwood Park, originally Evangelical United Brethren, now United Methodist-oriented; it is a semi-private family park, owned and operated by the Linwood Park company, maintained by the Park Superintendent with admittance gate fees collected by the Board of Directors during the season from early June until Labor Day.

Crystal Beach Park

Just east of downtown Vermilion on Rt. 6 on the north side of the road are an easily overlooked apartment complex, a gas station and a bank. On this acreage, as early as 1870 stood a picnic grove called Shadduck Lake Park. This pleasant grove became popular because the tree shaded area was accessible to horse-drawn buggies.

In 1906 George Blanchat purchased the park and named it Crystal Beach Park after his wife, Josephine's, description of the "crystal-like" sand on the beach. With rides and concessions added, Crystal Beach opened on Decoration Day, 1907. Along with the transition of ownership and name came other changes; even the square dancing gave way to the two-step. Some of the original buildings for the premier season were a pavilion for dancing and serving refreshments, a beer garden, a shooting gallery and a merry-go-round. Later bowling alleys, a toboggan slide into Lake Erie and a large restaurant were added. By the twenties, Crystal Beach featured such popular rides as the Bug, the Caterpillar, the circle swing called "Airplanes" and the Crystal Thriller roller coaster.

Rivaling the big thrill rides in popularity was the dance hall, the Crystal Garden. This hall played host to well-known bands as Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Les Brown, Sammy Kaye and Lawrence Welk, to name just a few. This one feature drew people from Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. As the big bands flourished, so did Crystal Beach. Certainly ballroom dancing provided a central attraction to the many amusement parks of that era.

George Blanchat passed away in 1938 and James Ryan, active at the park since 1929, took over as manager for Mrs. J. Blanchat. Jimmy Ryan held that position until the park's close at the end of the 1962 season.

McGarvey's

Many people do not know, or remember that the restaurant known as McGarvey's was originally built, owned and operated by Charles Helfrich. That was in 1929, shortly after the new bridge was built across the river. The old bridge crossed a little south of the present location.

Mr. Helfrich operated a small boat and canoe rental business on the east side of the river. The proposed new bridge nearly touched his building and also diverted traffic away from it. So he purchased the land just north of the new bridge and built a restaurant and boat rental business there.  Home cooked dinners, fish, chicken, sandwiches and homemade pies were the first attractions. Also served were the almost unheard of hot fish sandwiches, on Schwensen's bread. The business prospered and Helfrich's became a busy place.  The canoe and boat business were also thriving. Canoeing on the river was a popular pastime in those days, especially on Sunday afternoons.

In 1934 Mr. Helfrich died and two years later Mrs. Helfrich sold the enterprises to Charlie McGarvey's. After his death, Mrs. McGarvey sold her husband's business to Charles Solomon, son of Eddie Solomon.  The restaurant was one of the most well known eating places along the lake shore, popular with both "landlubbers" and boaters.  In the year 2000, the Vermilion Port Authority purchased the McGarvey's property and razed the building. The property became a transient marina and restaurant named Red Clay on the River, now Quaker Steak & Lube.

The Lagoons

Louis Wells, a Cleveland contractor, began the Vermilion Lagoons project as a means of keeping his men busy during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1931 the first house and the beach house had been built and the lagoons were dredged and most of the wooden piling secured.

The first house was located just to the south and west of the beach house on the Erie Lagoon and belonged to a Mr. Comstock, a real estate salesman and employee of Wells Realty Company.  A "building boom" took place in the mid 1930s and by 1940 all of the houses on Anchorage Way, at least one house on Willow Lane, and most of the houses on the portion of Portage Drive located on the north side of the Erie Lagoon had been constructed. The first year-round residents, the Lester Kishman family, moved into their new home in April of 1937.

The Lagoons was not mostly permanent residents until the 1950s. Another "building boom" began during this period and it was at this time that Park Drive, the last road to be developed, experienced growth.  To the townspeople of Vermilion, the people of the Lagoons were often known as "swamp dwellers" or "swamp rats." They were also thought to be slightly crazy for wanting to live so close to the water. At times, this has indeed meant being in the water rather than by the water.

Along with the residential development came the recreational in the form of the Vermilion Yacht Club. Mr. Wells deeded the land on the tip and south side of Anchorage Way to the Yacht Club with one stipulation - no alcoholic beverages could be served or sold on the premises of the club itself. The originators of the Vermilion Yacht Club were all former members of the Cleveland Yacht Club seeking a more secluded anchorage.

Besides the obviously great boat dockage and the beach on the Lake, the uniqueness of the Lagoons is in the uniformity of the architecture of all buildings found there. The charm of Cape Cod homes, all white with dark roofs and shutters, amid trees (mostly all willows in the beginning) and fronting on lagoons is undeniable and gives to the Vermilion Lagoons its own inimitable flavor.

Brownhelm Township Ohio Early Settlement

In May of 1816 began an event that has been referred to as the “Year without Summer” in New England. Frost had killed off most of the crops that had been planted; soon most of New England was gripped by the cold front. There was widespread loss of crops with the result of regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic. Most likely spurred on by this natural disaster, in the fall of 1816 Henry Brown traveled with William Alverson and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.

Originally a part of Black River, in 1818 the area was separated into a township. The western part of the township was traversed by the crooked Vermillion, whose broad valley and high, steep banks give a pleasing diversity to the generally level surface. There were several other small streams not designated by name on the county map. The soil was more or less clay, modified along the ridges by gravel and sand, and, in small areas in the northern part of the town, by a deep, black muck of great fertility.

Early in the following year, Levi Shepard and Sylvester Barnum and their families, and two daughters of Stephen James, who came with Mr. Shepard, left Stockbridge for this township, where they arrived, after a protracted and tedious journey, in the after noon of July 4, 1817. Mr. James with his two sons (his wife having died previously) started from Stockbridge about the same time as Deacon Shepard and his associates, but taking the boat at Buffalo for Black River, reached the place about a week in advance of them. Mr Shepard and family are the conceded first settlers. “Mr. Shepard and his wife, without indicating their purpose to their fellow travelers, were careful to lead the way as they approached the selected territory, so as to be first on the ground. They crossed the line between Black River and Brownhelm some rods in advance of their associates, and thus they properly have the honor of being the first settlers.”

Some of the young men who came with Colonel Brown had returned east, but four of them remained and were on the ground when the three families arrived. These were Peter P. Pease, William Alverson, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. They were then single, but they subsequently married and settled in the town.

The first work of the assembled group was to prepare an independence dinner in honor of the occasion. This is believed to have been the first meal ever spread in the township by white women. Some of the young men, looking on while the women prepared the meal, were moved to tears. It was the first sight of anything like home that had met their eyes for many months. The material for the dinner was not over-abundant or varied, embracing the bread and pork which the young men contributed, and the relics of the provisions with which the travelers had been furnished for the journey. But the seasoning of appetite, novelty and hope made it a dinner long to be remembered, such as one enjoys but once in a life time. The party consisted of sixteen persons who shared in the meal.

Shepard, Barnum, and James took up their abode on the lake shore, jointly occupying, for a time, the log house of Colonel Brown.

Barnum, in a few days, vacated, his family living in a lumber wagon, on his purchase, for a short time, until the completion of his house. He remained but a few years in the township. Most of his family died of a malignant disease called “milk sickness,” or “ sick stomach,” which prevailed so fatally in the town in an early day, and he returned to Massachusetts, where he subsequently died.

Shepard and James continued their occupancy of the Brown house, until the erection, by the former, of a cabin on his purchase on lot six, when the two families took up their abode there. Mr. James and family occupied a part of the house for about a year, when he erected a cabin on his farm, west of Colonel Brown.

Alverson took up residence on the ridge. He then returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to marry Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild. Together they returned to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam; on the way six weeks.

Before the close of the year in which the families previously mentioned arrived, those of Solomon Whit tlesey, Alva Curtis, Ebenezer Scott and Benjamin Bacon moved in.

Mr. Whittlesey located on the farm later occupied by his son Cyrus. Mr. Whittlesey was a great hunter in his pioneer days. His death occurred in 1871, aged eighty-five.

Deacon Curtis settled near the Vermillion, on the spot later occupied by Fred. Bacon. He opened here, in his house, the first hotel in the town. He had no descendants living in Brownhelm, and we have but little information concerning him. He died in 1846, his wife subsequently.

Mr. Bacon was the first justice of the peace in the place. Mr. Bacon was qualified by nature to be a leader, and was probably a man of as much influence and extended acquaintance as any other in the settlement. This weight of character was used on the side of order, education and sound morality.

The next year the settlement was increased by the arrival of a dozen families. One of the first was that of Anson Cooper, who moved in from Euclid, Cuyahoga county. Mr. Cooper died in 1846. He was the first town clerk in Brownhelm.

The families of Colonel Brown, Grandison Fairchild, Alfred Avery, Enos Cooley, Elisha Peck, George Bacon, John Graham, Orrin Sage, Chester Seymour, Thomas Ely and Dr. Brown moved in soon after. Colonel Brown took up his abode in the house on the lake shore already prepared for him.

The privilege of naming the place was yielded by the citizens, at a meeting called for the purpose, at Mr. Barnum's, to Colonel Brown. He gave it the name "Brownhelm," which caused some displeasure among some of the people, as implying that Colonel Brown was to steer the ship, a thought which was probably not in his mind in connection with the name. He doubtless sought only for an agreeable termination of the name, and found it in the old Saxon word ham or hem, softened for euphony to helm, and signifying ‘home,’ or dwelling place, and thus the name means “Brown’s home.” To some of the early inhabitants, it sounded like Brown at the helm, and a petition was at one time circulated to have the name changed to Freedom, but Brownhelm is the name that held steadfast.

The Early Settlers of  Brownhelm Township Ohio

President Fairchild, in his history of this township written in 1867, locates generally the early settlers as follows:

There were originally five lines of settlement in town, the lake shore and the four ridges parallel to it.

On the lake shore there were: Brown, Seymour, James, Shepard, Weed, Dr. Brown, Goodrich, Hart, Sly, Wells, Graham and Sheldon Johnson; and at a later day, Hawley Lathrop and Leach.

Between the shore and the First Ridge: Cooley, Barnum, Scott; and later, Perley Moulton and Rankin.

Along the First Ridge: Whittlesey, Alverson, Peter P. Pease. Cooper, Orrin Sage, Moulton, Joseph Scott and Ketchum; and later, Baker, Ewing, Lyon, Culver, Hiram Pease, Hamilton Perry, Parkhurst, Hastings, Bartlett, Hosford, Dimmock, Graves, Blodgett, Hemmingway, James Newbury and Job Smith.

On the principal ridge, known as the North Ridge: Andrews, Avery, Baldwin, Lincoln, Fairchild, Betts, Daniel Perry, and afterward his sons; the Bacons, three families, Curtis at the mill, Hinkley and Waters Bette; and beyond the river, Abishai Morse, Bradley, Hewett, Booth, Davis and his distillery, and Saunders. At a later day, along the same ridge, we have Belden, Samuel Curtis, Rodney Andrews, Henry Sage, Samuel Bacon, Leavenworth, Dr. Willard, Bailey, Kent Hawley, Edward Morse, Stephen Goodrich, Stephen Brown, John Newbury, Fancher, and many others still later.

Along the Middle Ridge or near it, on one side or the other: Peck, George James, Seth Morse, Wallace, Jones; and at a later day, Harris, Locke, Van Dusen, Ira Rugg, Cable, Frisbie, Chapin, Bushrod Perry, S. G. Morse, Parsons and Ira Wood; and still further south, Joseph Swift.

On the South Ridge road, the earliest families were Powers, Leonard, Durand, Andrews, Hancock, Denison, Holcomb, Abbott and Fuller. This road was soon set off to Henrietta.

Almost all of these families came from the east, most from Berkshire county, Massachusetts, some from Connecticut, and a few from other parts. A very few, discouraged by sickness and by the hardships of the new country, returned east.

Col. (Judge) Henry Brown

Col. (Judge) Henry Brown was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on June 3, 1773. In his youth he started a course of liberal education at Harvard College, but by his sophomore year was experiencing failing health, thus discontinuing his studies. After he restored his health by travel and relieving the stress of college, he engaged in merchandise in his town and continued in the business until his newfound western interests required him to give it up.

In the fall of 1816, he visited the tract of country, then simply known as number six in the nineteenth range (Brownhelm) and on his return east he entered into contract with the Connecticut Land Company to form Brownhelm. The honor of naming this new township was awarded to him. Upon the organization of the county of Lorain, Col. Brown was appointed one of the three associate judges of the county, a position which, both by reason of his business experience and the natural bent of his mind, he was well qualified to fill.

Judge Brown also took an active part in the establishment of a college in the Western Reserve. Judge Brown was afterwards a member of the board of trustees of this college, and continued in the office until the infirmities of age compelled him to relinquish it. He was a man of many social qualities, and of much intelligence. He died December 10, 1843, in the seventy-first year of his age, and the family is now extinct in the township.

William Alverson

William Alverson, born August 18, 1784 in Holland, sailed from Amsterdam with his widowed mother and two brothers when he was ten years old. They settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. When he was a young man, he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the age of 32 he embarked on an adventure to become one of the founding fathers of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.

Frost had killed off most of the crops in New England in May of 1816, the “Year without Summer”. The result was regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic. Spurred on by this natural disaster, in the fall of 1816 William Alverson traveled with Henry Brown and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.

Township officers were chosen at the spring election in 1819, held at the home of George Bacon. Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis were elected trustees; Anson Cooper, township clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace.

Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had stuck their stakes. These were the earliest visits to the east. Returning to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, William Alverson married Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild, born August 2, 1798 in Stockbridge. They married June 8, 1819. Soon after their marriage they went to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam. They were on the way six weeks.

About three years after these first settlers arrived in Brownhelm, Mr. and Mrs. William Alverson were living in a house of their own, a timber framed home built on the crest of a hill on the North Ridge. Logs from the land were shaped into rectangular, hand-hewn posts and beams through the skilled use of axes. Precise mortise and tenon and dovetail joints were hand-carved, which were secured with wooden pegs. The skill in creating this precise joinery and intricately engineered timber frames was the source of great pride and competition among the timber frame artisans; so much so that it became a tradition for craftsmen to inscribe their initials next to the joinery they created. William Alverson carved an "A" next to the joints.

A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. This first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819.

In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. An old butternut tree stood near the door. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. Male teachers were often preferred in the winter months when the older students, no longer needed in the fields, returned to school and were of a more spirited humor. Fairchild received his tuition in chopping. Labor and produce were the currency employed for the exchange of values. Money was very scarce, and nearly all debts, except the one incurred in the purchase of lands, were paid in labor, its products, and those of the soil.

The site of the school was romantic. School children enjoyed sliding down the hill, wading in the brook, and floating logs down the creek. In winter children would skate upon the frozen stream.

The house was of modest dimensions, eighteen by twenty two, but was still thought by some to be too ambitious a disposition on the part of the people who lived on this road. Hence, the street was nicknamed Strut Street by a man who would have the house twelve feet square - a title it bore for many years. This school house was finished with a stick chimney and a broad fireplace without jambs. A board around the house, resting on pins projecting from the walls, served for desks. Whitewood slabs supported by pins made the seats. Loose boards lying on joists made a loft above, and an excavation beneath the floor, reached by raising a board, was thought by the children to serve as a dungeon for the punishment of offenders. In their childish simplicity, they supposed the excavation was made for the purpose, with malice prepense, but it was an accidental result of making mortar to build the chimney.

Children from every part of the town attended. There was no public school fund in those times and the teacher received his compensation in work in his chopping the next spring day, being distributed among the families according to the number of children attending the school. For years afterwards teachers received their pay in farm produce.

One summer day the teacher placed her chair on the table, removed a board from the floor above, lifted the children up one by one and kept school up stairs - the excuse being that Colonel Brown's bull had been seen loose around the street that day and he might be wild.

In 1824 the "Yellow School House" was built a few feet west of the log one and the boys had the exquisite pleasure of rolling the old house down the hill. This yellow school house was an elegant one in its day, painted throughout and plastered. It was no ordinary school house, but a genuine academy furnished with unusual apparatus globes and wall maps, and pantograph and tables for map drawing and painting. This was the first attempt in the county, and indeed in a much wider region, at a school of anything more than a local character. It prospered for two or three years, attracting young ladies in the summer from all the older settlements within a distance of twenty miles - Milan, Norwalk, Florence, Elyria, Shelfield etc. The first summer the house was without heat. In cool, wet weather the boys kept up an outdoor fire, and between the damp plastering within and the rain without some of the children took the ague and shook the summer through. In the fall a stove was bought - probably the first that was ever brought into town - a diminutive box stove eighteen inches in length, but a wonder to the children of the woods who had never seen a stove. Over that children shivered two or three winters until it was succeeded by a larger stove cast in plates but utterly destitute of clamping rods to hold it together. No man in the community knew that such a thing was necessary, and it was no rare occurrence for a long stick to thrust out the end plate and occasionally the whole fabric collapsed at once. But such annoyances were but trifles and the Brownhelm school maintained a character above that of other schools in the country around. There was no other school in town the first dozen years or more. After three or four years it ceased to be anything but a local school. The old yellow school house eventually went off in a blaze.

In the summer of 1830, Rev Hervey Lyon opened an academy in a small house built for the purpose. This was kept up two years and attended by small number of pupils, a few of whom commenced Latin and Greek in preparation for college. This was the first classical school in the county and gave place to the Elyria high school established in 1832. This school enjoyed two years of great prosperity until the school at Oberlin was opened in 1834, which at once took the lead and has maintained it. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, was active in the founding of Oberlin College. Her nephew, James, was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century.

In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on North Ridge Road. The original red brick school was square in plan with four evenly spaced brick pilasters along the front, back and sides. Ventilation and daylight were introduced into the interior by tall, narrow, double hung windows. The building had a steeply pitched hip roof. In 1905, an addition was constructed on the west side of the 1889 building. The less steeply pitched hip roof was added at this time, featuring a deep overhang with carved wood bracked supports. Roof dormers and a cupola were added with this addition. In 1922, the Brownhelm School was renovated and further enlarged. The renovation included a new red brick Neo classical/Georgian Revival front facade. The round top glass transom and stonework detailing gave importance to the main entrance. The rear flat roofed brick and masonry addition added a large combination auditorium and gymnasium. 

The Alversons had six children:
  • Emily Louisa- born April 30, 1820 in Brownhelm, Ohio; died September 2, 1882 in Lee, Massachusetts
  • Mary Lucinia - born September 24, 1821; died April 18, 1840 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
  • Daniel Fairchild - born February 19, 1823; died December 5, 1893 in Canandaigun, New York (On June 15, 1848 Daniel Fairchild Alverson married Sarah Cowdery (1822-1906) in Rochester, Monroe Co., New York. Sarah was the daughter of the celebrated frontier printer and editor, Benjamin Franklin Cowdery (1790-1867).)
  • Elizabeth Elvira - born February 8, 1825; died April 1895 in Brownhelm, Ohio
  • Frederick William - born December 14, 1829; died August 1894 in Canadaigun, New York
  • Julia Harriet - born March 17, 1834, Stockbridge, Massachusetts; died March 8, 1861 in Lee, Massachusetts
In 1830 the Alversons returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where they lived until the the death of Mr. Alverson on February 2, 1847 in Stockbridge. Harriet Fairchild Alverson married a second husband on December 2, 1856, Elisha Benham. Harriet Fairchild Alverson Benham died September 30, 1885 in West Haven, Connecticut.

Grandison Fairchild

Grandison Fairchild was born in Sheflield, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, April 20, 1792. November 25, 1813, he married Nancy Harris, daughter of William Harris, who was an early settler in Brownhelm. She was born October 30, 1795. Mr. Fairchild, with his family, then consisting of wife and three children, removed from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to Brownhelm in September, 1818, coming from Buffalo to Cleveland on the pioneer steamer, Walk-in-the-Water. Four days were spent on the water, the vessel lying for two days on a bar at Erie. From Cleveland the journey was made with team and wagon. Mr. Fairchild’s location was on North Ridge, between the later residence of his son Charles and the church. He later moved a short distance east of his original location, in his eighty seventh year, erect and seemingly as vigorous as ever. Mrs. Fairchild died in August, 1875. There were ten children. His sons became presidents of various educational institutions. James was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century. Henry was president of Berea College at Berea, Kentucky. George was president of Kansas State University.

Deacon Shepard

Deacon Shepard was born near Sturbridge, Worcester County, Massachusetts, December 9, 1784. When a boy he removed with his parents to Stockbridge where he resided until his emigration to Ohio. He was a blacksmith and prosecuted his trade in connection with his farm work for several years in Brownhelm, his patrons paying him in work at clearing and logging on his farm. Mr. Shepard was blessed with a remarkably strong constitution. At the age of eighty-three he could work all day with almost as little consequent fatigue as in the days of his young manhood; and the summer immediately preceding his eighty-fourth birthday he was engaged in chopping wood, and splitting rails, almost the entire season. In December, 1876, he sustained a partial stroke of paralysis in his lower limbs, and since that time he moved about with difficulty. His hearing and eyesight were also much impaired. But, notwithstanding his bodily infirmities, his mind still remained comparatively vigorous, and his memory of early events was remarkably good. He was small in stature, and his form much bent, bowed down by the weight of years. He enjoyed, extremely, a chat about pioneer times, and related with glee how be secured for himself and family the honor of being the first settlers. Deacon Shepard has no descendants now living the town. His third wife died, and his four children, two sons and two daughters, moved somewhere in the west.

Stephen James

Stephen James was born in Middlesex, Connecticut, August 8, 1767, but removed to Stockbridge, Massachusetts when young. He was prominently identified with the church for many years in Brownhelm, and also in Stockbridge, where he was first elected to the office of deacon under Rev. Dr. West. This office he filled with equal credit to himself, and satisfaction to the church. He instituted the first known religious services held in this township, holding meeting at Judge Brown’s house the Sunday immediately preceding the arrival of Deacon Shepard and his associates. Before the advent of the minister, he led the meetings of the little band in the woods of Brownhelm, regularly sustaining a reading service on the Sabbath, in connection with his brethren, until they were blessed with the stated ministry of the word. He frequently officiated on funeral and other occasions, and assisted in the organization of religious services in neighboring settlements. He was well qualified for such work, possessing, it is said, among other qualifications, considerable fluency of speech. In all the walks of life, Deacon James was distinguished for benevolence, moral rectitude, and earnest, active piety. He married, at the age of twenty-seven, Hannah Schofield, of Stanford, Connecticut, who died in 1811, leaving five children, three sons and two daughters. One of the sons being an apprentice in Massachusetts, never emigrated to the west. In the fall of 1828, he married Miss Rhoda Buck, of Connecticut, who was visiting friends in Brownhelm at the time. No children were born of this marriage. Deacon James died in 1841, his wife surviving him several years.

Orrin Sage

Orrin Sage, originally from Hartford, Connecticut, married Lucy Cooper, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in June, 1818, and, immediately afterwards, with George Bacon and his wife, who was a sister of Mrs. Sage, set out for the distant west. The party had a wagon and two ox-teams, and a single horse and wagon with which they made the journey, and were five weeks coming through. At Buffalo they shipped their goods by the lake to Black River. Sage located on the farm adjoining on the north - that on which the Bacons later lived. He died in October, 1823, and his widow soon after exchanged farms with Jona than Hosford and returned with her little son to Stockbridge.

Bacon

Bacon located on a farm. His first wife died in 1826, and he returned to Stockbridge and a year subsequently married Mrs. Sage, when they removed to Brownhehn. Mrs. Bacon died in January, 1875. Mrs. Bacon lived into her eighties.

Enos Cooley

Enos Cooley began life in the wilderness on a cash capital of six cents. He located near the lake shore, erecting his cabin on the spot later occupied by the residence of the widow of Lewis Braun. He subsequently removed to a permanent location on the North Ridge, where he resided until his death in 1847. Two of his children were later living in this township. They are Moses and Chester A. The latter owned and operated at Bacon’s Corners the only cheese factory in the town.

Elisha Peck

Elisha Peck, with wife and ten children, arrived in Brownhelm in November of the year previously mentioned. The family stopped with Colonel Brown the night after their arrival, and then moved into the house of Alfred Avery, where they remained some three weeks. They then took up their abode on lot fifty-four, a log house having been rolled together. It was indeed a. primitive house when the family moved into it, for it was without a floor of any kind, and the first night the children made their bed on mother earth. The father and mother were provided with a bedstead constructed of poles, and elm bark was made to answer in place of a cord. Mr. Peck was a shoemaker and worked at his trade for over sixty years. He also had a rude tannery in Brownhelm at an early day. He was born in Berlin, Connecticut, March 7, 1773, and died in Brownhelm January 7, 1858, aged eighty-four years and ten months. His wife was Millicent Byington, of Bristol, Connecticut. They had four children.

Deacon George Wells

Deacon George Wells arrived in 1818. He was at the time unmarried. He bought a piece of land on the lake shore, felled a tree, and with a few poles and bark made himself a rude shelter in which he lived the first summer. A short time afterward this was substituted by a log house, in which his widowed mother and the remainder of her family took up their abode in the summer of 1820. Mr. Wells returned to Hartford in 1825, and married, immediately after which he set out with his bride for the far west. At Buffalo he engaged passage on a vessel, the captain of which agreed to land him on the shore opposite his residence in Brownhelm. He disregarded his promise, however, and carried Mr. Wells and wife to Johnson’s Island, thence to Sandusky, and finally landed them, with some twenty other passengers, at Cedar Point. Mr. Wells and wife started for their Brownhelm cabin on foot, but after traveling some ten miles were overtaken by Captain Day, who was returning to Black River from Sandusky on horseback. He kindly offered his place on the horse to the young wife, which was accepted; Mr. Wells and the captain traveling on foot. The end of the journey was duly reached, when two men with a skifi were sent after Mrs. Wells’ baggage, which was hardly equal either in value or quantity to the outfit of the modern bride.

John Graham

John Graham married a sister of Deacon Wells, and removed to Brownhelm soon after he arrived. He located on the same lot - lot four - and lived there the remainder of his life.

Abishai Morse

Abishai Morse came from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to Brownhelm in September, 1820 with his family consisting of his wife and five children. Eight were born subsequently. A horse team and wagon brought the family and their effects, and they were six weeks on the journey. They lived with Alva Curtis until their log house was completed. This stood a short distance east of the later residence of his son, Geo. G. Morse, west of the Vermillion. The log house was occupied until 1833, when the pleasant frame house was erected. He and George Hinckley had a saw mill on the Vermillion in an early day, where Heyman’s grist and saw mill later stood. They afterwards bought the old grist mill of Judge Brown, which had been removed to the same place from its original location near the Swift place. Mr. Morse died in December, 1835.

Ira Wood & Stephen Goodrich

Ira Wood came into the township in 1831. His first location was west of the river, where John Stevenson later lived. Stephen Goodrich came in at the same time, and they together established a tannery. Mr. Wood subsequently sold his interest to Goodrich, and moved to the east side of the river.

Early Life In Brownhelm Ohio


It was not a rare thing for young men to walk the entire distance from Massachusetts to Ohio, carrying a few indispensable articles upon their backs, in a white canvas knapsack. One or more of these knapsacks might be found in almost every neighborhood during the early years, cherished as mementos of such pedestrian feats. One young man brought in his ‘pack,’ from Massachusetts to this county, a pair of iron wedges, implements more valuable to him than a wedge of gold.

As successive families came on, they found shelter for a few weeks with those who had preceded them, until they could roll up a log house, roof it with “shakes” and cut an opening for a door. Then they would move into their new home and finish it at leisure. This finishing consisted in laying a floor of planks split from logs, puncheons as they were called; putting up a chimney in one end of the house, ordinarily of sticks plastered with clay, sometimes of stone, with a large open fireplace, generally made with a hearth and back, without jambs or mantel; adding at length a door, when there was leisure to go to Shupe’s Mill on Beaver creek, for a board; and a window of glass if it could be had - if not, oiled paper. A later stage in the operation consisted in “chinking” the cracks between the logs with pieces of wood on the inside, and plastering them without with clay mortar.

As leisure and prosperity followed, loose boards were laid above for a chamber floor, and in cases of unusual nicety and taste, the man devoted several evenings to hewing the logs on the sides within, and peeling the bark from the round joists overhead. Families unusually favored had rough stairs to the loft above, otherwise a ladder. An excavation below, entered through a trap in the floor, served as a cellar.

In rare cases, a family attained to the dignity of a sleeping room, separated from the common living apartment by a board partition; oftener chintz curtains, or sheets, or quilts, secured the privacy of the bed. These often disappeared as the wants of the family pressed, and the bed was left shelter-less.

The furniture of this primitive home was as simple as the domicile itself. The bedstead was made of round poles, shaved or peeled, the posts at the head rising above the bed and joined by a bar in place of a headboard. Elm bark often served in place of a cord. The trundle-bed was the same thing on a smaller scale. A table was extemporized from the cover of a box in which the family goods were brought from the east, while the box itself, with a shelf introduced, served as a cupboard for provisions. A shelf on the side of the room supported the crockery and tin ware, while a few stools, with now and then a back added, according to the mechanical skill or enterprise of the proprietor, served the place of chairs.

This simple house, with its simpler furniture, furnished a home by no means uncomfortable where health, and hope, and kindly feeling were the light of it. The skeleton frame house of the pioneer of modern days, without paint, or ceiling, or plaster, or tree to shelter it, will by no means compare with the snug, well kinked, substantial log house of the early settlers.

The first frame house in town was built by Benjamin Bacon, and the next by Dr. Betts. Mr. Bacon’s was the first painted one.

The first brick house in town, and indeed in the county, was built by Grandison Fairchild, in 1824. It was built with twenty thousand brick, at an aggregate cost of three hundred dollars. It later received some additions and improvements.

The first stylish house in town was Judge Brown’s, built in 1826, a grand affair in its day - a stately farm house.

The Grand Old Forest Of Brownhelm

The great drawback of the country, and at the same time its chief advantage, was the grand old forest with which the entire surface was covered, furnishing every variety of timber that could be needed in a new country, in quantities that seemed absolutely inexhaustible.

Along the ridges the chestnut prevailed, the trunk from two to four feet in diameter, and a hundred feet in height, furnishing the best fencing material that any new country was ever blessed with. The only discount on the chestnut was in the fact that the stump would remain full thirty years, an offense to the farmer, unless some strenuous means were used to eradicate it. The surest way was to undermine it, and bury it on the spot where it grew. The tree next in value for timber was the whitewood or tulip tree, of regal majesty, and second only to the white pine for finishing lumber, and for some uses superior to it. The oak and the hickory, in every variety and of magnificent proportions, were found everywhere; and on the lowlands and river bottoms, the black walnut, probably the most stately tree of Northern Ohio forests, inferior in magnificence only to the famous red wood of California. A single specimen was standing on the Vermillion river bottom which was said to measure fifteen feet in diameter above the swell of the roots. In the early years, this valuable fancy timber only ranked next to the chestnut, and there are barns and cowsheds in town roofed with clean black walnut boards, two feet and more in width.

With the first settlers, these magnificent forests were not held in high appreciation. They were esteemed usurpers of the soil, and the great endeavor was to exterminate them. Coming generations are not able to comprehend the labor involved in this enterprise, or the pluck that could accomplish it. A man was famous according as he lifted up axes upon the thick trees. No iron sinewed engine was at hand to take the brunt of the work. The pioneer himself, equipped only with his axe, a yoke of oxen and a log chain, had to attack, lay low and reduce to ashes the forests that overhung his farm. The men that accomplished this were sturdy in limb and strong in heart. A feeble race would have retired from the encounter.

The farmer of the present day, who has only to turn over the prairie sod, and wait for the harvest, can know little of the labor involved in settling a heavy-timbered country. Yet, if this had been a prairie country, its settlement must have been deferred full twenty years. The forests were a vast store house of material for building and fencing, and for fuel. The house in stern labor could accomplish everything. But for these forests each family would have required a capital of a thousand or two of dollars, and facilities for the transportation of lumber and other material would have been required, and a market where the products of the soil could be exchanged for these materials. The pioneer found his best friend in the forest, but the friendship was one of stem conditions, yielding its advantages only to the brave hearted.

It is a little sad to look back to the uncounted thousands of splendid trees of white wood, and oak, and ash, and hickory, and black walnut. and chestnut, which by dint of vast labor were reduced to ashes. But our case is not peculiar; at some such sacrifice every new country is settled. The divine wisdom that planned the continent, placed the prairies west of the forests, and the gold still farther on in the direction of the “march of empire.” Any other arrangement would have obstructed or greatly retarded the occupation of the country. The habit contracted in the clearing of the lands, the passion for destroying trees, has sometimes survived the necessity. The men who rejoiced over the fall of every tree are not likely to cherish with sufficient care the remnants of the grand old forests, or to replant on the grounds, cleared with so much labor, the trees necessary for shade, and ornament, and utility.

The gladdest sound of childhood was the crash of falling trees, and mother and children together rushed out of the cabin as each giant fell, to see how the area of vision was extended. Thus, slowly and with huge labor, the cleared circle expanded around each home. When ground was required for cultivation more rapidly than it could be thoroughly cleared, the plan of “girdling” or “deadening” was adopted, which killed the larger trees and left them standing. The falling limbs of the girdled trees destroyed the crops and sometimes the cattle, and often crushed the fences, and now and then the cabin itself; and a fire in a girdling on a windy autumn night was full of terror to a whole neighborhood. The loss of many a hay-stack, and burn, and house, was the price of the seeming advantage. Then, too, the final clearing away of the principal. The branchless timber, case hardened in the sun, was a more discouraging work than the original thorough clearing would have been. But these facts were only learned by experience, and so every settlement had its “girdling.”

It was a stern work, the clearing up and subduing of these beautiful farms, snatching meanwhile from among the countless stumps, by hasty culture, the support of the family, and in many cases the means of paying for the farm, or at least the interest on the purchase price. He was a fortunate man who brought from the east the price of his land. It many cases it made the difference between success and failure. It was very discouraging, after a struggle of years with hard work and sickness, to find the original debt increasing instead of diminishing; and it is not strange that here and there one sold his “improvements” for the means of conveying his family back to the eastern home, and retired from the conflict. The great majority stood bravely to the work, and achieved a satisfactory success.

Clothes & Shoes

It is difficult for the young people of this day to appreciate the conditions of living in the new settlement. We need to recall the fact that northern Ohio was farther from the appliances of civilization than any portion of North America is today. The canal through the State of New York was not in existence, had scarcely been dreamed of. Western New York itself was mostly a bowling wilderness. The articles needed in the new country could not be brought from the far east except at ruinous cost, and for the produce of the new country the only market was that made by the wants of the occasional new families that joined the settlement. These generally brought a little money, which was soon divided among their neighbors. The families in general came well furnished with clothing, after the New England fashion; but a year or two of wear and tear in the woods, sadly reduced the store. The children did not stop growing in the woods, nor in those days did they cease to multiply and replenish the earth. The outgrown garments of the older children might serve for the younger, but where were the new garments for these older children to grow into? Flax could be raised, and summer linen of tow, and bleached linen, and copper as stripe, could be manufactured, when hands and health could be found to do it.

Every woman was a spinner, but only here and there was a weaver, and each family had to come in for its turn. The old garments often grew shabby before the piece which was to furnish the summer wear of the family could be put through the loom. In autumn the difficulty was increased. The material for winter clothing could not be extemporized in the new country. Sheep came in slowly. At first they were not safe from wolves, and afterwards the new lands proved unwholesome to them, and they died, often suddenly, without visible cause. But when wool could not be obtained, the process of manufacture was slow and the time uncertain. The spinning was a matter that could be managed; the weaving involved uncertainty, and then the web must be sent to the cloth-dresser and bide its time. It might come home long after thanksgiving, long after winter school began. Thus an unreasonable demand was made upon the summer clothing, a demand which it could but poorly answer. It was not rare to see a boy at school with his summer pants drawn over the remnants of his last winter’s wear, a combination which provided both for warmth and decency.

Some families dispensed altogether with the clothier’s services, and by the aid of a butternut dye gave their cloth a home dressing, avoiding the loss of time and the loss of surface by shrinkage - both important elements in the solution of the problem of clothing the boys. The undressed cloth was indeed rather light for winter, especially when the extravagance of underclothing, or of overcoats for the boys was never dreamed of ; but it was very much better than none. The various devices for making clothing served its purpose as long as possible, were in use, and some ingenious ones, unknown at the present day. Pantaloons were given a longer lease of life by facing the exposed portions with home-dressed deerskin. This served an admirable purpose, as long as there was enough of the original garment left to supply a skeleton; but at length the whole fabric would break down together, like the “wonderful one horse shay.” Garments made wholly of buckskin were sometimes attempted, but after a single wetting and drying, they were as uncomfortable as if made of sheet iron.

Leather was scarce, and shoes as a consequence. Here and there was a tannery, after a year or two; but where were the hides? Cattle were scarce, and too valuable to be sacrificed for such small comforts as shoes and, tallow candles, and fresh beef. If some disease had not appeared among them, now and then, the case would have been still worse. But in these simple times, a hide could not be tanned in a day. After long months the leather came, but shoemakers, proverbially slow, were indefinitely slower, when their outdoor work absorbed their energies, and they resorted to the bench only for spare evenings and rainy days. The boy must go for his shoes half score of times, and return with a promise for next week. The snow often came before the shoes, and then the shoes themselves would be a curiosity - made as they were indiscriminately from the skins of the hog, the dog, the deer, and the wolf.

Sometimes when the household store of clothing seemed nearly exhausted, and every garment had served its generation in a half dozen different forms, a box would come from the east brought by some family moving into the new country well charged with half worn garments and new cloth, and a stray string of dried apples to fill out a corner, enough to make glad the hearts of the recipients for a year. “Mother says we are rich now,” said three little boys to a neighbor’s children, whom they met in the road, after the arrival of a box from Stockbridge. “Well,” was the reply, “we are not rich, we are poor, and poor folks go to heaven, and rich folks don’t.” This was a new-view of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and the boys went home quite crest-fallen. It relieved this experience of poverty that all shared in it. Many wants are merely relative. We need good things because our neighbors have them. But in those days, there were few contrasts to disturb even the poorest. Still, without any reference to others, there is some slight discomfort to a boy in calling at a neighbor’s house in such a plight that he cannot safely turn his back to the people as he leaves the house; or in crossing the meadow on a frosty morning with bare feet, stopping now and then to warm them on a stone not so cold as the grass.

Food

In the matter of necessary food, the new country was more generous. The soil yielded abundantly when once brought under cultivation, furnishing the substantials of life. The material of bread was abundant, but in a dry season, the wheat could not be ground. Brown’s mill, on the Vermillion, was the first to fail; then Shupe’s on Bearer creek, Stair’s at Birmingham, and last Ely’s at Elyria. The grists were ground in the order of their reception, and sometimes a family was obliged to wait weeks for its turn, as the water was sufficient only for an hour’s work in a day; and sometimes the mill rested for days in succession. Then it was no small enterprise to go to Elyria to mill. There was a time when there were not a half dozen horses in town. Mr. Peck had a span, Mr. Bacon one, and Judge Brown a span. These horses were freely lent, but they could not meet the requirements of the entire settlement, when the mill was a dozen miles away, and still be of any use to their owners. When one went to mill with a team, he was expected to carry the grists of his neighbors, or bring them home, if he found them ground. When the mills were at rest, it was allowable to borrow as long as there was any flour in the neighborhood, and when it failed, they enjoyed a week’s variety of “jointed corn” or pounded wheat. There was a little peril to young hands in this work of “jointing” corn, and many a thumb bared marks as the fossil bird tracks of the Connecticut sand stone.

Pork was the staple article in flesh, an ox or a cow being too valuable to slaughter. There was venison and other wild game - so plenty at times as to become a drug. Such meats were likely to be regarded as fancy adornments of a bill of fare, not satisfactory as an every day reliance. When an original Brownhelmer went to the city, he was not likely to call for venison, unless to recall the early experience, as the people of Israel used unleavened bread and bitter herbs at the Passover. He had done his duty in that line of eating. Roasted raccoon and baked opossum were never popular.

The supply of fruits was not abundant. Three years sufficed to bring the peach into hearing from the stone; hence, this was the earliest cultivated fruit. The diseases and insects that ruin the peach tree were then unknown. A wagon load of the finest peaches could be had for the gathering. Peach cider was attempted in various parts of the town, before the advent of teetotalism, but the cause of temperance never suffered from it. Apples and pears came on very slowly. The plan of grafting was not much in use, and the virgin soil which stimulated the growth of wood, was not favorable to early fruitage. Now and then a stray apple reached them from the orchard of Horatio Perry, or of Judge Ruggles in Vermillion. And what a flavor there was in that slice from a pippin, brought by Mr. Alverson, all the way from Stockbridge, in his knapsack! The first pear that the boy tasted he was not allowed to see. He was told to shut his eyes and open his mouth, and a bit of the delicious mystery was placed upon his tongue.

Sugar could be obtained from the maple then, but the maple tree was not abundant in the township. Many farms were entirely destitute of it, and few families made sugar enough for the year’s supply. It was not a rare thing for a family to be without sugar for months in succession. Honey and pumpkin molasses were used as substitutes for sweetening tea and making gingerbread, not quite equal to refined sugar; but they served to keep alive the idea of sweetness. Genuine tea, old or young hyson, was regarded as a necessary of life, and no well conditioned family could be found without it. But it would astonish a modern housekeeper to hear how small a quantity would meet the necessity. Children never needed it; it was not good for them; and a pound would supply a family for a year. Tea must have been a different thing in those times. A single teaspoonful, well steeped, would furnish sociability to a half dozen ladies of an afternoon; and the same pot, refilled with water, would charm away the weariness of the men folks, when they returned from their work. A cargo of such tea, in these days, would make the fortune of the importer. Store coffee was essentially unknown, and therefore not needed.

The table furniture was simple, and the frugal habits of New England on this point, favored the condition of the people. The food was placed in a common dish in the middle of the table, the potato mashed and seasoned to the taste, and the meat cut in mouthfuls ready for appropriation. A knife and fork at each place sufficed, or even one of them would do for the children. A drinking-cup or tumbler at each end of the table was ample. If bread and milk was the bill of fare, a single bowl and spoon could do duty for the entire family, going down from the oldest to the youngest. This may seem like imagination— it is simple fact. Commonly a tin basin or pewter porringer went around among the younger children; but as they grew older they preferred to wait, for the sake of using the crockery ware.

In those dark-walled log cabins, a single tallow candle would not seem so afford superfluous light of a winter evening; but only favored families could indulge the luxury. The candle was lighted when visitors came. At other times the bright wood fire was the chief reliance, and for sewing or reading a nicked tea saucer filled with hog’s fat, and a wick of twisted rag projecting over the edge. This was the classic lamp of the log cabin, open to accident indeed, but a dash of grease on the puncheon floor was an immaterial circumstance. Two dipped candles furnished the light for an evening meeting, the hour for which was very properly designated as “early candle lighting.”

Black Salts

The outdoor life of the early settlers presented some peculiar features. The chief item of farm work was clearing land. The first, and in some respects the most valuable products of this labor, was derived from the ashes of the burnt forests. Black salts, or potash, concentrated much value in a small bulk and hence would bear transportation to a distant market. For years it was the only article of farm produce which would bring money. Some trader at the mouth of Black river, or at Elyria, would pay one-third cash for this article, and the balance in goods. Thus the farmer could raise the money to pay his taxes, and a little more for tea and cotton cloth. which were always cash articles. Wheat and corn would not sell for cash, except occasionally a little to an immigrant, until about the time of the completion of the Erie canal. It was the height of prosperity when at length white flint corn came to sell at eighteen cents a bushel, and white army beans at thirty to fifty cents. From that day they were “out of the woods.”

Wild Animals

One of the features of early life here was familiarity with the wild animals that had possession of the country. The howl of the wolf at night was as familiar as the whip-poor-will’s song - not the small prairie wolf so well known at the west, but the powerful wolf of the forest, the black and the gray. They passed in droves by the dwellings at night, sometimes when the new comers had only a blanket suspended in the opening for the door. Sometimes they crowded upon the footsteps of a belated settler, passing from one part of the settlement to another, The boy crossing the pasture on a winter morning would often see the blind track of a wolf that had loped across the night before. If he had forgotten to bring in his sheep at evening, he might find them scattered and torn in the morning. A dog that ventured from the house at night, sometimes came in with wounds more honorable than comfortable. The wolf was a shy animal, seldom showing itself by day light.

Probably not one in a dozen of the early inhabitants ever saw a wolf in the forest; yet these animals roamed the woods around Brownhelm for years. Mr. Solomon Whittlesey once snatched his calf from the jaws of a wolf, at night, with many pairs of hungry eyes gleaming upon him through the darkness. In 1827, the county commissioners offered a bounty for wolf scalps - three dollars for a full-grown wolf, and half the sum for a whelp of three months. Whether any drafts were ever made upon the treasury does not appear.

Now and then a wolf was taken in a trap or shot by a hunter. Probably less than a half-dozen were ever killed in the township. About the winter of 1827-28, wolf hunts were organized in the region on a grand scale, conducted by surrounding it tract of country several miles in extent, with a line of men within sight of each other at the start, and approaching each other as they moved toward the center. The first of these hunts centered in Henrietta, and resulted in bagging large quantities of game, but never a wolf. A single wolf made his appearance at the center, and was snapped at and shot at by many a rifle, but he got off with a whole skin.

The sport involved danger from the cross-shooting as the line drew near the center, and Park Harris, of Amherst, mounted on a horse, received a shot in the ankle. To avoid this danger, the next hunt centered on the river hollow, about the mill in Brownhelm, but the scale on which it was arranged was too grand to be carried out. The lilies were too extended and broke in many places, resulting in gathering upon the flat a small herd of deer and a solitary fox, barely furnishing an occasion for the hundreds of huntsmen above to discharge their pieces, as the frightened animals escaped into the woods up the river. It was an utterly fruitless chase. A more exciting chase was the slave-hunt of a later day, in which the people bewildered and foiled the kidnappers.

Bears were less numerous than wolves, but they were perhaps more often seen. One was shot by Solomon Whittlesey, from the ridge, a little east of the burying ground. One of the trials of childish courage was to pass the tree against which tradition said that he rested his rifle in the shot. Another dangerous tree was the large basswood that leaned over the brook, a little to the south-east of Harvey Perry’s orchard. Mrs. Fairchild, going over the ridge to bring a pail of water from the spring, once drove a large black animal before her which she thought a dog until he scrambled up that tree when she returned home without the water. The tree stood close by the track that led to Mr. Peck’s, and it was a test of pluck for a child to pass that tree just as the evening began to darken. One day, one of a half dozen sheep was missing. In looking for the lost animal, a place was found where it seemed to have been dragged over the fence where a bear had made his feast, leaving the wool scattered about and a few large bones. The tracks were still fresh in the mud.

Such occurrences gave a smack of adventure to child life in the new country, and it was a matter of every day consultation among the boys, what were the habits of the various animals supposed to be dangerous, such as the wolf, the bear, the wild cat, and the panther, and by what tactics it was safest to meet them. Similar discussions were had in reference to the Indians, who had required a bad reputation during the war, then recent, with England. The prevailing opinion was, that any fear exhibited towards an Indian, or a wild beast, put one at a great disadvantage.

Deer were far more plenty than cattle, and the sight of them was an everyday occurrence. A good marks man would sometimes shoot one from his door. The same was true of wild turkeys. Raccoons worked mischief in the unripe corn, and a favorite sport of the boys was “coon hunting” at night, the time when the creature visited the corn. A dog traversed the cornfield to start the game, and the boys ran at the first bark of the dog, to be in at the death. When the animal took to a tree, it was cut down, or a fire was built and a guard set to keep him until morning, when he was brought down by a shot. The motive for the hunt was three-fold - the sport, the protection of the corn, and the value of the skin; the raccoon being a furred animal.

The greatest speculation in this line of which the town can boast, was made by Job Smith, “a man of some note.” He is said to have bought a quantity of goods of a New York dealer, promising to pay “five hundred coon skins taken as they run,” naturally meaning an average lot. The dealer, after waiting a reasonable time for his fur, came on to investigate, and inquired of his debtor when the skins would be delivered. “Why,” said Mr. Smith, “you were to take them as they run; the woods are full of them; take them when you please.” The moral of the story would not be complete with out stating that the same Job Smith was afterwards arrested as a manufacturer of counterfeit coin.

Thrifty men pursued the business of hunting as a pastime. The only man in town, perhaps, to whom it afforded profitable business, in any sense, was Solomon Whittlesey. Other professional hunters were shiftless men, to whom hunting was a mere passion, having something of the attractions of gambling. Mr. Whittlesey did not neglect his farm, but he knew every haunt and path of the deer and the turkey, and was often on their track by day and by night. He reported the killing of one bear, two wolves, twenty wild cats, about one hundred fifty deer, and smaller game too numerous to specify. One branch of his business was bee hunting, a pursuit which required a keen eye, good judgment and practice. The method of the hunt was to raise an odor in the forest, by placing honey comb on a hot stone, and in the vicinity another piece of comb charged with honey. The bees were attracted by the smell, and having gorged themselves with the honey, they took a bee-line for their tree. This line the hunter observed and marked by two or more trees in range. He then took another station, not on this line, and went through the same operation. Those two lines, if fortunately selected, would converge upon the bee tree, and could be followed out by a pocket compass. The tree, when found, was marked by the hunter with his initials, and could be cut down at the proper time.

Another form of the sport of hunting was even more classic, the hunting of the wild boar. For many years there was an unbroken forest, two miles in breadth, running through the township, between the North Ridge and the lake shore farms. This forest became the haunt of fugitive hogs that fed on the abundant mast, or, in Yankee phrase, “shack,” which the forest yielded. These animals were bred in the forest, and in the third generation became as fierce as the wild boar of the European forest. The animal in this condition was about as worthless, for domestic purposes, as a wolf, as gaunt and as savage. Still it was customary, in the fall and early winter, to organize hunts for reclaiming some valuable animal that had become thus degenerate. The hunt was exciting and dangerous. The genuine wild boar, exasperated by dogs, was the most terrible creature in the forest. His onset was too sudden and headlong to be avoided or turned aside, and the snap of his tusks, as he sharpened them in his fury, was somewhat terrible. Two at least of the young men, Walter Crocker and Truman Tryon, were thrown down and badly rent in such encounters, and others had narrow escapes.

The principal fishing ground of the early years was the “flood wood” of the Vermillion. The lake fishing is a modern discovery. It was not known that the lake contained fish that were accessible. Other sports and recreations were few and simple, most of them presenting the utilitarian element. There were logging bees to help a man who had been sick or unfortunate, raisings to put up a log cabin or barn, and militia trainings, which were entered into earnestly by men who had smelt powder in the recent war.

Early Farm Life Of Brownhelm Township Ohio

The appliances for farm culture were not the most efficient. Horses and wagons came slowly. Oxen and carts, however, furnished a very good substitute, indeed were best suited to the work in the midst of logs and stumps. They were not so convenient for trips to mill, or to market, or to meeting; but they were made to answer all these purposes. Indeed, a single ox, fitly harnessed, was sometimes made to do duty as a horse in plowing corn. The plow of these times was such as each farmer, possessing a little mechanical gumption, could make for himself. The share, as it was called by courtesy, was brought from the east, made of wrought iron and pointed with steel. The mould-board was split from an oak log and hewed into a slightly spiral form, and the whole was bound together by a bolt which extended from a block at the base up through the beam. The clear, shining furrow of the modern plowman could not follow such an implement. The sensation produced by the first cast-iron plow brought into the country brought people from miles to see it. The only drawback was that when the point failed, it could be replaced only by sending to Massachusetts, except that the proprietor chanced to be enough of a Yankee to Whittle out a mould for himself, and thus obtained a perpetual supply from a furnace at Elyria.

Mechanics and artisans appeared slowly. All the energies of the people were concentrated upon clearing the land, and they had no surplus means to support mechanics who should supply them with the refinements of life. Shoemakers were first called for, and some men found themselves shoemakers who had never been suspected, either by their friends or themselves, of any acquaintance with the art. Among the first who were recognized as accomplished artists in this line were Mr. Peck and his sons, Mr. Scott near the stone quarry, Mr. Wells on the lake, and afterward Mr. Hosford and his sons. Mr. Peck established a tannery, and could thus perform the whole labor of transforming into shoes the few hides which the murrain furnished to a reluctant community. The shoemaker often went from house to house making shoes for the entire family, an operation that was called “whipping the cat.”

The first blacksmith in town, and the only one for many years, was Deacon Shepard. A farmer like the rest, he spent his mornings and evenings and rainy days at his anvil. Such double service would seem too much for ordinary endurance; but the deacon walked among the people whom he thus served.

Seth Morse made rakes, scythe snaths and farm cradles. Mr. Blodgett manufactured brooms, and Solomon Whittlesey converted the farmer’s black salts into pearlash.

Alfred Avery was a wheelwright, and of course a carpenter, more strictly devoted to his trade than most of the first mechanics.

Thomas Sly, on the lake shore, was a carpenter, and his son James after him; on the south ridge, Durand and Hancock. Many of the farmers had sufficient skill in the working of wood to construct their plows, sleds, ox-yokes and ordinary farming implements, and to put an axle into a cart or wagon.

Ezekiel Goodrich, on the lake shore, was the first cabinet maker. There was no brick or stone mason in the early settlement. The only work in that line was the building of stick chimneys, and now and then one of stone and brick, and pointing the crevices of the log cabins every winter with clay - even the boys learned to do this. Such extempore mason-work was not always reliable. The stone chimney in the house built for Dr. Betts buried Mr. Pease in its ruins one day, when he was engaged laying the hearth. He was bruised, not killed.

The first flouring-mill was built by Judge Brown, in 1821, on the Vermillion, near the Swift place. After two or three years it was removed down the river and placed by the side of a saw mill, owned by Hinckley and Morse. It is the same mill later owned by Benjamin Bacon - the same perhaps in the sense that the boy’s knife was the same after having a new blade and a new handle. Its original infirmity was want of motive power in a dry time, a weakness from which it has never-fully recovered - the failure of the dam in a wet time, and the freezing up of the wheel in winter.

In the later 1800s there was one grist mill in the township. This was the mill of John H. Heyman, called the “Brownhelm Mills,” situated in West Brownhelm, on the Vermillion. The mill was erected in the fall of 1877, at a cost of some fifteen thousand dollars. There were three run of stones, beside a middlings stone. The mill was usually run by water power, but an engine had been added for use in dry seasons. The new process, called the “steaming process,” was adopted in the manufacture of flour, which consisted simply of steaming the wheat about six hours before grinding. About three hundred barrels of flour were now shipped per week, the principal market for which was Cleveland. It was one of the best establishments of the kind in this section of country. Mr. Heyman also had, in connection with his grist mill, a saw mill, run by the same motive power.

The first carding and cloth-dressing establishment was built by Uriah Hawley and Charles Whittlesey, on the Vermillion, but a little southwest of Brownhelm territory.

The first hotel in town was kept by Alva Curtis, first in his log house, afterwards in a more stately structure. It was always a pleasant home for a traveler. The sign itself gave notice that Sunday calls were not desired. Travelers were also entertained, for a consideration, at any house at which they felt inclined to stop. Mr. Curtis brought the first stock of goods into the town, and opened a store. His assortment was not extensive. Stores were afterwards opened at Black River, Elyria, South Amherst, North Amherst, and, in 1830, one by Ezekiel Goodrich, on the lake shore in Brownhelm, afterwards removed to the Ridge Road, near Mr. Curtis’.

Early Education In Brownhelm Township Ohio

About three years after these first settlers arrived in Brownhelm, Mr. and Mrs. William Alverson were living in a house of their own, a timber framed home built on the crest of a hill on the North Ridge. A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. This first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819.

In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. An old butternut tree stood near the door. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. Male teachers were often preferred in the winter months when the older students, no longer needed in the fields, returned to school and were of a more spirited humor. Fairchild received his tuition in chopping. Labor and produce were the currency employed for the exchange of values. Money was very scarce, and nearly all debts, except the one incurred in the purchase of lands, were paid in labor, its products, and those of the soil.

The site of the school was romantic. School children enjoyed sliding down the hill, wading in the brook, and floating logs down the creek. In winter children would skate upon the frozen stream.

The house was of modest dimensions, eighteen by twenty two, but was still thought by some to be too ambitious a disposition on the part of the people who lived on this road. Hence, the street was nicknamed Strut Street by a man who would have the house twelve feet square - a title it bore for many years. This school house was finished with a stick chimney and a broad fireplace without jambs. A board around the house, resting on pins projecting from the walls, served for desks. Whitewood slabs supported by pins made the seats. Loose boards lying on joists made a loft above, and an excavation beneath the floor, reached by raising a board, was thought by the children to serve as a dungeon for the punishment of offenders. In their childish simplicity, they supposed the excavation was made for the purpose, with malice prepense, but it was an accidental result of making mortar to build the chimney.

Children from every part of the town attended. There was no public school fund in those times and the teacher received his compensation in work in his chopping the next spring day for day the work, being distributed among the families according to the number of children attending the school. For years afterwards teachers received their pay in farm produce. One summer day the teacher placed her chair on the table, removed a board from the floor above, lifted the children up one by one and kept school up stairs - the excuse being that Colonel Brown's bull had been seen loose around the street that day and he might be wild.

In 1824 the "Yellow School House" was built a few feet west of the log one and the boys had the exquisite pleasure of rolling the old house down the hill. This yellow school house was an elegant one in its day, painted throughout and plastered. It was no ordinary school house, but a genuine academy furnished with unusual apparatus globes and wall maps, and pantograph and tables for map drawing and painting. This was the first attempt in the county, and indeed in a much wider region, at a school of anything more than a local character. It prospered for two or three years, attracting young ladies in the summer from all the older settlements within a distance of twenty miles - Milan, Norwalk, Florence, Elyria, Shelfield etc.

The first summer the house was without heat. In cool, wet weather the boys kept up an outdoor fire, and between the damp plastering within and the rain without some of the children took the ague and shook the summer through. In the fall a stove was bought - probably the first that was ever brought into town - a diminutive box stove eighteen inches in length, but a wonder to the children of the woods who had never seen a stove. Over that children shivered two or three winters until it was succeeded by a larger stove cast in plates but utterly destitute of clamping rods to hold it together. No man in the community knew that such a thing was necessary, and it was no rare occurrence for a long stick to thrust out the end plate and occasionally the whole fabric collapsed at once.

But such annoyances were but trifles and the Brownhelm school maintained a character above that of other schools in the country around. There was no other school in town the first dozen years or more. After three or four years it ceased to be anything but a local school. The old yellow school house eventually went off in a blaze.

In the summer of 1830, Rev Hervey Lyon opened an academy in a small house built for the purpose. This was kept up two years and attended by small number of pupils, a few of whom commenced Latin and Greek in preparation for college. This was the first classical school in the county and gave place to the Elyria high school established in 1832. This school enjoyed two years of great prosperity until the school at Oberlin was opened in 1834, which at once took the lead and has maintained it. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, was active in the founding of Oberlin College. Her nephew, James, was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century.

In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on North Ridge Road. The original red brick school was square in plan with four evenly spaced brick pilasters along the front, back and sides. Ventilation and daylight were introduced into the interior by tall, narrow, double hung windows. The building had a steeply pitched hip roof. In 1905, an addition was constructed on the west side of the 1889 building. The less steeply pitched hip roof was added at this time, featuring a deep overhang with carved wood bracked supports. Roof dormers and a cupola were added with this addition. In 1922, the Brownhelm School was renovated and further enlarged. The renovation included a new red brick Neo classical/Georgian Revival front facade. The round top glass transom and stonework detailing gave importance to the main entrance. The rear flat roofed brick and masonry addition added a large combination auditorium and gymnasium. 

Early Religion In Brownhelm Township Ohio

The early settlers were in earnest in religious matters, as well as in education. They were not all members of the church, but they had all been trained in New England habits, and prominent men like Alva Curtis and Colonel Brown, who did not at first have a standing in the church, still maintained family prayer and aided in the Sabbath services. A meeting was held at Judge Brown’s house by Deacon James the Sabbath before July 4, 1817. From that day on public worship has been held on the Sabbath, unless for a single day the violence of a storm may have prevented the gathering. The first meetings were held at Judge Brown’s, afterwards at Solomon Whittlesey’s, and then at Mr. Barnum’s, a little north of the stone quarry.

At this point the first meeting house was built in 1819, a neat and commodious structure for the new country, constructed of pealed logs, with a genuine shingle roof, and a stone chimney and fireplace. The infirmity of this part of the arrangement was that the mantle was of wood, which often took fire on a winter day, and one of the young men, Frederic Brown, or Chauncey Peck, or Rodney Andrews, was obliged to bring water or snow to extinguish it, while the rest of the congregation were occupied with the calculation how long it would be before the chimney would come down upon them. The seats were like those of the log school house, slabs on pins. The men were ranged on one side the house and the woman on the other, facing each other, with a broad aisle between, at one end of which stood the pulpit. As times improved and lumber became abundant, one man made a comfortable settee for his family; others followed his example, and in a few weeks the whole congregation were provided for.

A dedication of the house was by Deacon Beardsley, of Vermillion. Passing the building one day when it was nearly finished, he went in to see if the house would seem like the old log meeting house that he had known in Connecticut. The spirit of the Lord seemed to come upon him, and with a solemn prayer he consecrated the house, and received an assurance of great spiritual blessings to come soon upon the people. The promised blessing was not long delayed. In the great revival that followed, almost all the young people were gathered into the church.

The church was organized June 10, 1819, at the house of Solomon Whittlesey, and consisted of sixteen members, seven men and nine women, including Levi Shepard and Grandison Fairchild, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Fairchild. The ministers that officiated in its organization were Messrs, Treat and Seward, missionaries of the Connecticut Missionary Society, and members of the Portage Presbytery. The church was congregational, under the care of Presbytery, after the “plan of union.” Stephen James was the first deacon, and afterward Levi Shepard was elected; Grandison Fairchild was clerk. Rev. A. H. Betts, known through the country as Dr. Betts from the fact that he had studied medicine, was the first minister. He began preaching to the church in the fall of 1820, and was ordained and installed April 5, 1821. He continued pastor until, at his own request, he was dismissed in 1833.

The practice of the congregation was to meet for service at half past ten Sabbath mornings, to take a recess of an hour for rest; and for lunch which they took with them to meeting, visiting the spring under the rocks for water; and returning for afternoon service. There were only two or three families that lived near enough to go home at noon. A sight of the old congregation would be refreshing today - the women in their Sunday’s best, the men in their shirt sleeves, the boys and girls with bare feet. Mr. Peek, at the head of the high seat with his pitch pipe, Judge Brown next, and Dr. Betts in the pulpit.

After the Sabbath school was introduced, this was held at noon. The first Sabbath school was opened June 1, 1828, Sabbath morning in the yellow school house with about a dozen children and two teachers - Grandison Fairchild and Pamelia Curtis. It was afterwards transferred to the meeting house and held at noon. The chief feature of the school at that day was the learning and reciting of scripture, each scholar having the privilege of selecting his own passages and learning as many as possible. A single scholar would sometimes repeat more than a hundred at a lesson. One such in a class would nearly consume the hour.

Before 1830, the Sabbath school was reorganized under the superintendence of Frederic Brown who had been living at the east and returned all alive with interest in the Sabbath school work. The plan of limited lessons was adopted, and the Sabbath school became a religious power in the community of great efficiency. It was the time of a great religious movement in the land, in connection with which protracted meetings were first extensively introduced, commonly known as “four days’ meetings.” These meetings gathered not merely the communities where they were held, but people from neighboring towns attended in large numbers. They were not like the protracted meetings of the present day, occupying the evening with a single preaching service, preceded by a prayer meeting, leaving the people free during a large part of the day for their usual avocations. At these four days’ meetings the people gathered in the morning, taking a luncheon for themselves and for visitors from abroad, and the entire day was devoted to preaching, prayer and inquiry meetings. Evening meetings followed in the different neighborhoods.

Such a meeting was held at Brownhelm in the summer of 1831 under a bower, in the forest, just north of the stone quarry. The old meeting house was not large enough. The weather was propitious, and the meeting was fruitful of results. The religious interest which had been accumulating for many months, in connection with the Sabbath school work, reached its culmination. Many were greatly quickened in their religious life, and many more were induced to enter upon such a life. It was a season to be remembered for a generation. Similar meetings were held at Elyria and at Vermillion earlier in the season, and the influence extended through the region. Mr. Shipherd, of Elyria, Mr. Bradstreet, of Vermillion, Mr. Judson, of Milan, and several others, were recognized as leaders in the work. Probably no other such general movement has been known in this territory of northern Ohio.

The old log meeting house, about this time, became uncomfortable for winters and inadequate for summers, and the people moved towards a better house. It was soon found difficult to bring the interests of the lake shore and the ridge to harmonize upon a location. An old Stockbridge difficulty between the Plain and the North settlement found an echo here in the woods, and, perhaps, predisposed to a reproduction of the quarrel. After sundry meetings and conferences, the question was referred to a committee of discreet men from abroad. whose decision was to be final. This committee consisted of Deacon Crocker, of Dover, Deacon Clark, of Vermillion, and Deacon Fuller, of Berlin. They drove the stake in Grandison Fairchild's peach orchard, and there the church was.

The first attempt at a building was essentially a failure. Mr. Culver was the architect, a man of mechanical genius, but deficient in practical judgment; and the building, having no cross beams to support the roof, and relying solely on braced and trussed plates, commenced life with a broken back. After an inglorious career, it gave place to the cheerful and graceful structure built by Alfred Betts.

A Methodist Episcopal class was formed in West Brownhelm in about the year 1841, called the Brown helm class. The records of the church have not been preserved, and we could obtain but little information concerning it. The erection of a church building was commenced not long after the organization of the class, but was not finished, for want of means, for several years after. It was dedicated by Elder Lyon, of Sandusky.

The Evangelical Association was organized by Rev. Lutz in the year 1847. The earlier meetings of the society were held in the school house in the southeast part of the town. A house of worship was erected on Middle Ridge in 1865, at a cost of one thousand two hundred dollars. A Sabbath school was organized subsequently.

The German Reformed Church was organized in 1848. Services were held at first in the school house in district number one, and, subsequently, after the division of the district, the society purchased the school house and occupied it as a house of Worship until 1870, when the building at the station was   erected. The cost of this church was one thousand six hundred dollars. The first pastor was Rev. Meis.

The people of Brownhelm, in the early times, felt reasonable complacency in their social, literary and religious privileges, and in the good order and morality which distinguished the place. Crime was rare, and rowdyism almost unknown. If a boisterous company, now and then, passed along the streets, it was assumed that they were from Black River, a township which then embraced Amherst.

There was only one drunkard in town, even before the commencement of the temperance movement. But the temperance movement came none too soon. The habit of drinking at raisings and trainings, and of having liquors in the house for social occasions, and for private use, was universal; and the young were forming a taste for it. In 1827, some account reached Brownhelm of the growing interest at the east on the subject, and on Thanks giving day Dr. Betts preached on temperance. The same evening several boys from the neighborhood were spending the evening at Grandison Fairchild's, the older people having gathered at a neighbor’s house. The boys, after some conference on the subject, drew up a pledge, one or two of them having learned to write, and all signed it - a pledge to abstain from the use of all distilled spirits. This was the first temperance organization in the township, the first, in fact, in the county. This pledge was circulated, and led to the formation of a vigorous temperance society. From that time the use of spirits declined, until it was no longer furnished on public or social occasion, or kept for private use. Davis’ distillery went to ruin, and young men were saved who had been exposed to great danger.

Until about this time, a few Indians had lingered about the region, sometimes passing by in considerable parties from the neighborhood of Upper Sandusky. They were harmless after the war, and the only annoyance from them was their persistent begging for whiskey. They would stand an hour at the door, begging for “one little dram.” One day a party stopped at Grandison Fairchild's house and passed the bottle among themselves, the bottle being carried by a white man who belonged to the party. One young man, more gentle and amiable than the rest, said, when the bottle was offered to him, “No, whiskey wrestle we down once, never will again.”

Brownhelm Township Ohio: The Firsts

From February, 1817, until October, 1818, the town was a part of Black River. At the latter date, on petition of the inhabitants to the commissioners of Huron county, number six, the nineteenth range, together with the surplus lands adjoining west, and all lands lying west of Beaver Creek in number seven, in the eighteenth range - Black River - was organized into a separate township by the name of Brownhelm, a name selected by Colonel Brown. The first election for township officers was held at the house of George Bacon, in the spring of 1819. The vote was by ballot which resulted as follows: Anson Cooper, clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Levi Shepard, Calvin Leonard, and Alvah Curtiss, trustees; Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon, justices of the peace. That part of the present town of Black River lying west of Beaver creek was, in June, 1829, by order of the commissioners, detached from Brownhelm, and re-annexed to Black River.

The first justices of the peace in the township were Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon. The cases referred to their adjudication were few and simple. Sometimes it was found more convenient and economical to let an unusual rogue escape from the country, than to take him to the jail at Norwalk. It is related that a case of horse stealing once came before ’Squire Wells, of Vermillion. The culprit was a wandering preacher, but the evidence was strong against him. ’Squire Wells invited ’Squire Bacon to sit with him on the trial, to add weight to the court. The constables took the liberty of advising the prisoner to seek safety by flight, if during the progress of the trial a fair opportunity should appear. He seized the opportunity with great alacrity, and was followed with a shout, but not overtaken. The next day, ’Squire Bacon started for Cleveland, and spent the night at Dover. A preacher had come into town, and the people were gathering to hear him. Mr. Bacon went with the rest, and was surprised to see at the desk his horse-stealing acquaintance of the day before. He gave as his text “ Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” After the sermon, opportunity was given to any who wished to offer a word of exhortation. Mr. Bacon improved the opportunity by relating the occurrence of the previous day. The poor preacher started suddenly on his travels again, and at last amounts had not stopped.

The first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819. A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. 

The first physician in town was Dr. Weed, who died in the earliest years. Then Dr. Betts, as having some knowledge of medicine, visited the sick when no other physician could be had. Next, Dr. Forbes took up his residence for a short time, occupying the place later belonging to Samuel Bacon’s family. When there was no resident physician, Dr. Baker, of Florence, later of Norwalk, was chiefly relied on, and sometimes Dr. Woleott, of Elyria. Dr. Samuel Strong commenced his practice in Brownhelm, and continued a few years. Drs. Willard, Wigton, Page, and Chapman later practiced there.

In general, the early families brought their medicine bags into the new country, and administered to afflicted children glauber salts, ealomel and jalap, rhubarb and senna, with entire confidence, not to speak of Wormwood, thoroughwort, and other more odious herbs and compounds. Thus the children were taken through chicken-pox, measles, and whooping cough, in comparative safety. The ague was sometimes “broken” with Peruvian bark, but the more popular treatment was to wear it out.

The disease most dreaded in the new country was the milk sickness, or, as it was generally called, the sick stomach, commonly supposed to originate in some poisonous herb eaten by the cattle, and to be communicated by the use of the milk. The disease was exceedingly distressing and malignant, and oftener fatal than otherwise. No part of the town was entirely exempt, but the disease was developed especially in certain localities. The Barnum place, near the old meeting house, was remarkably afflicted with it; and three stones, side by side in the burying ground, mark the graves of three Mrs. Barnums, all of whom died of the disease. One autumn, four members of their families died within a week. The place was at length deserted, and the precise locality has never since been occupied by a family.

Those sickly seasons were sad periods in the early history of the place. The little community was sometimes gathered to a double funeral, as once at Judge Brown’s, when Sidney Brown and Oliver Cooley died, and afterwards at Mr. Barnum’s. The latest calamity of the kind was in 1838, when the entire Campbell family, of five persons, died in the space of a month. But in spite of this scourge, the early settlers probably suffered less from sickness than is common in a new country, and the boon of health was gratefully included in the enumeration of blessings on thanksgiving day.

The first burial in town was that of a daughter of Alva Curtis, Calista, who died at Mr. Onstine’s, in Black River, before the family reached the Brownhelm line. She was buried first on Solomon Whittlesey’s place, afterwards in the burying ground near Mr. Bacon’s. The small brown stone that marks the grave was the only one in the ground for many years. long since disappeared.

The first birth was in the Holcomb family, on the south ridge - a son, Henry Brown Holcomb. Next, Lucy Cooper, and a month later, Enos Peck. George Cooper was born in Euclid and may very properly be considered the oldest Brownhelm boy.

The first wedding was probably that of Joseph Swift and Eliza Root, who were married on the South Ridge, August 22, 1818. Soon after Grandison Fairchild's arrival, in 1818, one of the Onstine young men came to borrow five dollars, and satinet enough for a pair of pants, giving as a reason that he was going to have a little frolic over in Vermillion. His frolic was his wedding. Among the earliest marriages was that of Ezekiel Goodrich and Charlotte Brown, on the lake shore. Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had “stuck their stakes.” These were the earliest visits to the east. At a later day, the married people singly, not in pairs, went back to visit their old home, going by steamer to Buffalo, and by canal to Albany, astonished to traverse in ten days the road that it had taken seven weeks to pass over in coming into the wilderness. This going back to Stockbridge was a great event - the hope of the older, and the dream of the children. The young man, putting on his freedom suit, must go to Stockbridge to give it an airing and to attain the consequence essential to sustain his manhood. When he returned, his young companions gathered around him as a distinguished traveler, to hear all he could tell of the wonderful land. In this respect, the experience of children brought up in the simplicity of the new country can scarcely be repeated at the present day.

The advantages of cultivated society, talked of by parents, but never seen by the children, made a powerful impression. The steepled church. back in the eastern home, wrought upon the imagination of the child, as it could not if an object of daily sight. The thought of the college, to one who had only seen the log school house, was material for castle building by day, and for dreams by night.

Brownhelm Ohio History: Fourth Of July

In the early days of Brownhelm, there was an occasional patriot of the Revolution days who fired the youthful heart by tales of the times that tried men’s souls. Chief among these was George Bacon, Sr., reported to have been one of the Boston tea party, who brought honorable wounds from the battlefield and drew his pension from the government. Then there was Stephen James, with a bar sinister in his escutcheon, because he chanced to be of tary stock, still a true patriot, and a brave and stately man. It is not strange that the Brownhelm Rifle Company should make a figure in the general musters of those times.

The Fourth of July was observed with such humble appointments as were at hand. An old musket that had been through the wars was the loudest piece that could be found, and this was brought into requisition. One Independence day, John Curtis, an ambitious youth, brought out a cannon, which he had manufactured by boring a cylinder of oak and strapping it with iron bands from a wagon hub. The piece was well charged and placed on the bank of the river, near his father’s, in the midst of a crowd of boys, and fired with a slow match. The report was satisfactory, but the splinters flew in all directions and the iron bands were a total loss - they were never found. What was more important, no one was hurt.

As the community gained new ideas and advanced in civilization, these Fourth of July celebrations took on a philanthropic character, and represented the interests of the Sabbath school and the temperance cause. For such a gathering, the work on the first frame church was hastened forward to furnish a place for the meeting. One feature of the exercises brought out the Sabbath school. Each scholar and each teacher was provided with a passage of scripture, selected for the occasion, to be recited in order. It was in the days of President Jackson, who was especially obnoxious to true New Englanders. When Alva Curtis was called on, he startled everyone with the petition, “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” Probably the whole congregation could say amen, for only three Jackson votes were cast in the township.

Difficulties & Compensations In Early Brownhelm Township

If any one should infer that early life here was more unsatisfactory or less desirable than life at the present time, it would be a misapprehension. There were difficulties to be encountered, but they had their compensations. There was poverty to endure, but it was equally distributed, and was cheered with the hope of a good time coming, a poverty that stimulated to activity, and brought no degradation. There was want of many advantages which tend to the elevation and refinement of character; but such advantages had been enjoyed by the early settlers in their New England homes, and the results would not be wholly lost before they gathered about themselves those desirable things.

There was hard work to do, but it was well done; and such work with encouragement to do it is the best opportunity. Few of those who bore the burden and heat of the day ever regretted their calling; and most of them lived to reap a good harvest. Few of the original families lived without sad breaches in their circle. This is incidental to our mortal life.

Some of the families, prominent in the early times, have now no living representative in the population of the place. Among these are the families of Judge Brown, Alva Curtis, William Alverson and the Peases. Most of the others have still a posterity and a name among us. The town sent out many worthy children to help build up other communities, some to repeat, in a degree, the achievements of their parents, as pioneers at the west. The life encouraged in Brownhelm was of a quiet, unambitious type, and the results in general correspond. There were no public men to speak of; no politician seems to have sprung up - few looked for public position or office. But these are not the characters the world most needs. We can gather a few ministers of the gospel, a few teachers, and many worthy and useful people, and this is well.

Township & Village Unite

In the late 1950s the residents of Brownhelm voted to change zoning to permit a Ford Motor plant to be built. Brownhelm lost the plant to the City of Lorain in a heated court case when Lorain annexed property out as far as Baumhart Road. Fearing that Lorain could also annex Brownhelm, the township petitioned the Village of Vermilion for annexation.

Vermilion had not yet become a city, but was rather a village. In Ohio,  a certain amount of acreage and population is required to be a city. Cities cannot be forcefully annexed, but villages and townships can. If Vermilion were to become a city, it would end the threat of a “Lorain takeover”. Brownhelm Township was able to provide the necessary land area and population for Vermilion to become a city.

But many people in southern Brownhelm did not want to be annexed by Vermilion either. They feared a loss of their identity as a township. But without the northern section of the township, southern Brownhelm self-governance would be difficult.

And so a deal was made. Vermilion would annex the northern end of Brownhelm Township to acquire the necessary acreage and population for city status. But, the northern area would also continue to identify as Brownhelm Township. Brownhelm would receive some of the taxes from residents in the overlap area.

On December 21, 1959 the Village of Vermilion passed legislation to accept the petition and approximately 4,300 acres of Brownhelm Township became a part of Vermilion Village.

Today, residents in the overlap area are both residents of Vermilion Township and the City of Vermilion, with the right to vote for Township Trustees. Both communities benefit from being able to solicit state funding. The process is done by district, with Vermilion in district 5 and Brownhelm Township in district 9. Brownhelm Township can accept funds in its region, while Vermilion can accept funds for its region.



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