NB Pioneer Days Series III: A First-Person Account
By Tom Boltz
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, George W. Wilkinson, the editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, encouraged elderly local residents to write about their experiences in the settling of Henry Township and the founding of North Baltimore, Ohio. He published their letters in a series of articles which he titled “Interesting Pioneer Sketches.”
The following article was written by William Henry Roberts (born 1832—died 1910). It describes the difficulties of the early settlers he personally knew in transforming Henry Township from Black Swamp wilderness into a settled community. This article is directly transcribed from the North Baltimore Beacon of July 26, 1901.
HOW THEY WENT TO MILL
In the 60’s—No Rubber Tired Buggies—Vanburen the Whole Thing
Proper Credit Given the B & O—Touching Incidents and References to Old
Time Neighbors by One Among Them
E. Beacon—In trying to comply with your request for a letter for the Beacon, I shall not pose as a historian but simply write a few lines, recollections as they come to me at this late date, at least late in my career.
I came to Hancock county, just south of North Baltimore, the site then of dense woods, about the 11th of November 1859 living on the farm now owned by your neighbor, L.S. Lyon. In 1861 I felled the trees from a small spot of ground large enough on which to erect a cabin on the farm on which I now reside. But I did not intend to write of myself, but more of the country then and its transformation from a wilderness and swamp to an agricultural country that is the pride of us all.
I remember once of coming along past Levi Thomas’, the road—forgive the expression—for it was on a rail through the woods. Levi and his good wife had corralled some large sycamore logs—within about four feet of their log cabin and were trying to get them in a heap, but will all their nerve it was too much of a task for them. At that time, it was along walk through the woods from my house over to Levi Thomas’s clearing. Now I can stand in my door and look over his large farm with its fine house and barn. He has hewed a fine farm from the wilderness is now the owner of nearly 400 acres if excellent land Levi in all those years of toil has been a good neighbor if not very ornamental—pardon us Levi.
Since I landed in the section the men and women that were the heads of families have nearly all passed to their reward. Commencing east of Vanburen and following the ridge to McComb, there are very few of the old settlers dotting the roadway. Their places are filled by boys of our early recollection, and even the frost of many winters are beginning to whiten their looks. At that time there were three or four buggies in the large stretch of country. Two horse wagons were good enough for these pioneers and may the pleasures in bumping over the corduroy roads. It is different now; each family had from one to four buggies, and so averse are they to the chucks and ruts, that nothing but rubber tires are acceptable.
In 1861 the country for mile around got mail, did their shopping, and repairing done at Vanburen. This included Henry and Bloom Townships of Wood County, and Cass and Allen, of Hancock. There was a post office near where Cygnet now stands, but the people had to go to Vanburen for milling and trading and largely got their mail there also. In the spring of the year, at times it was impassable and out of the question to get to mill with a wagon. The settlers, not belonging to the hibernating class—the bear and groundhog—would load a sack of corn of the hind carriage of the old farm wagon and strike out for Van, generally getting home sober to while the time sitting on the fence till the process of evaporation drank up the water. I think that nine-tenths of the people of Allen and Henry Townships are newcomers since these historic days and as large a percent of the tillable land, excepting the ridges that run through this part of the country have been cleared at the same time. Up to 1873 these good honest people thought that all there was in life was living, and with few exceptions, made no effort to ditch or clear their land. But when the surveyor for the B&O came along, they began to look peart, got off the fence, and were more careful of the seat of their pants. Soon there was sale for timber. What was sold at this time was hauled up to Findlay—some from north of Hammansburg in the shape of stave bolts and hoop holes. The B&O was the leaven that gave a boost to the country, and the young men were not slow to catch on and keep the ball a rolling: Such me as Levi Thomas, Harrison Downs, Lloyd Weisel, J. D. Burrell and don’t forget one of God’s noblemen, the late E. M. Heminger. Sad to think some of the good young men of long ago are not here, some have gone to other states and some to their reward. I remember of once reading some verses like this:
“Among the pines that overlook
Stone River’s rocky bed,
Ohio knows full many a son
There numbered among the dead.
I think perhaps I have written enough to at least start someone, and I hope many, to give their recollections of the past, History makes itself, but men must record it for the use and gratification of little “kids” that make your streets so merry when school has closed for the day.
W. H. Roberts