Richland Co., Ohio


Historical Information

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Washington Twp.

source:  Mansfield News, 24 January 1903


Submitted by Jean and Faye


History of Richland County

By A J. Baughman



Washington township was organized March 4, 1816.  It is six miles square and contains thirty-six sections.  The surface is broken, but is generally fertile, and a number of rich little valleys lie between its rugged hills.  Richland county is noted for its springs of cool, pure water and Washington township has its full share of them

Considerable land in the central part of Washington township was not wanted during the earlier period of the settlement of the county, because that locality was hilly and the land rough.  But when the Germans came they settled there, not, perhaps, from choice as much as from necessity, for the better lands had previously been taken.  Predictions were made at the time that the Germans could not make a living out of that rough region.  But they cut and grubbed and digged and cleared and succeeded in changing a rough wilderness into remunerative farms, and by dint of application, industry, perseverance and economy - traits for which the Germans are noted - success was achieved and the people of that settlement are as prosperous today as are those of other localities.  As a class, the Germans are industrious and frugal and make good citizens.

The questions have been asked why so many Germans leave their much-loved Fatherland and seek homes in America.  They began to emigrate to this country early in the eighteenth century, and for the reason that their fields of grain had been trampled under foot by the armies of Europe.  In many cases their stock and grain had been taken and their homes burned.  Added to these misfortunes, the severely cold winter of 1708 froze their __ine and destroyed their vineyards.  William Penn had visited them in their affliction and told them of his fertile lands in America.  Then the hegira to the new world began.  Thousands settled in Pennsylvania, whose descendants became known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”  For many years late the contending armies of Europe rendered German industries insecure and the local controversies made a military enrollment necessary that interfered with business plans and pursuits of young men who were able for military service.

The only town in the township is Washington, situate about six miles from Mansfield on the Newville road.  Town and township were named for the “Father of His Country.”  A good start to begin with.

The Clearfork of the Mochican courses across the southwest corner of the township and into this empties __uby’s run.

In the north part of the township, the Bentley run in former years furnished water-power for a number of mills and of these, Wickert’s is still in operation.

Slater’s run rises in the glades upon the old-time Vasbinder and Sickinger farms, and runs in a southeast direction until it empties into the Clearfork at Newville, a distance of eight miles.  The land of the valley through which this run courses is very productive.  This stream of water is now commonly called, ‘Possum run.  It formerly furnished water-power to run the Clever, the Losh and the Snyder sawmills and the Waits grist mills and the Graber woolen factory.

One of the highest elevations in Ohio is the “Settlement” hill, near the center of Washington township, five miles south of Mansfield, on the old State road.  The elevation is 932 feet above Lake Erie, and 370 feet higher than Mansfield.  Further south is the Sheckler hill, which has an altitude almost as high as the Settlement hill.

Washington township was noted in the past for its temperance and antislavery societies and Black Cane company.  The latter was organized to suppress horse-stealing.  From the number of horses stolen in the county from about 1820 to several years later, it was thought that members of the Blackfork gang resided in this township.  The Black Cane company was composed of some of the most prominent settlers of different neighborhoods who each carried a black cane, as an insignia of membership.  By the efforts of this company the neighborhood was rid of thievish depredations until about 1833, when the services of the company were again employed to drive out horse-thieves and counter__ters.

 The first temperance society had its headquarters in Washington.  To counteract this society an anti-temperance organization was formed and out numbered the other in membership, if not in duration of years.

The first road in the township was the State road from Mansfield to Bellville.  The first public house was kept by Thomas Laughlin, on the State road near the center on the township.  Some years later Sickinger’s tavern was opened, a half-mile north of the center.  Although Sickinger’s was a stage-tavern, its principal patronage came from the freight traffic of those stages.  The products of central Ohio were hauled by teams along this State road to the lake.  Dozens of teams at a time would stop at Sickinger’s over night.  The popularity of this hotel was largely due to Mrs. Sickinger’s reputation as a cook.

Some of the best fighters at pioneer musters were Washington township men.  A muster was considered a __ne affair unless there were several fights, at fisticuff, and it was usually Washington against the field.

Crist Burns, the Herculean pioneer, married a Miss Pearce of this township, and resided a number of years within its limits.  He was called a giant - not so much on account of his height and weight as his great strength.  He was known to carry three men and their loads.  He outran and whipped every man against whom he was ever matched.  His acrobatic feats were as wonderful as were his exhibitions of strength.  At one time a pole was placed upon the head of two men and Burns jumped over the same with apparent ease.  At another time he jumped over a covered wagon, to the surprise of all who witnessed the feat, and his gymnasium training had been in clearing the forest, tilling the soil and in carrying the hod.

The Pearce family, prominent people in the township, came in 1814, and among other early settlers were the following persons:  William and John Stewart, Solomon Culver, James Sirpliss, William Ayers, Solomon Lee, Daniel Mitchel, William Riddle, Daniel Cook, Joseph and Garvin Mitchel, Andrew Thompson, John and Wesley Barnes, Isaac Slater, Alexander McClain, Robert Crosky, Thomas Shanka, Andrew Pollock, Noah Watson, Martin and Jacob Ridenour, Calvin Culver, Thomas Smith, Melzer Coulter and Jedediah Smith. 

Jedediah Smith was the reputed lover of Kate Seymour, who, with her father and mother, was killed by the Indians in 1812.  Smith had entered land in the northeast part of the township, and then returned to Pennsylvania to make final arrangements for his removal here, and was to be married upon his return.  During his absence his beautiful Kate was murdered, as above stated.  Mr. Smith was so affected by this appalling event that he did not return to Ohio until 1816, and remained single for a number of years.

John Stewart was the first justice-of-the-peace of the township, which office he filled for a number of years.  He was auditor of the county for eight years, and county surveyor for eighteen years.  Mr. Watson was one of the first constables, and during his term of office served two summons and two warrants, but received no pay.  The first school was taught by John Barnett, who received two dollars per scholar for a three-months’ school.  In 1818 Sally Braden taught a summer school, the first taught by a woman in the township.

The religious sentiment of the township was always at the front.  The first church organization was of the Methodist Episcopal, at Washington, in about 1823.  They maintained their organization for many years.  During the anti-slavery excitement, prior to the civil war, this congregation divided, and the out-going party organized as Wesleyan Methodists, and built a church at the north end of the village.  Both of these are now gone.  The Congregationalists built a church in the center of the town, which is now the only place of worship there.  Two churches were organized and two church buildings erected in the southeast part of the township, and were occupied in the fifties by the Albrights and United Brethren.  Ebenezer church is at the crossing of the Mansfield-Newville and Bellville-Lucas roads.  Cesarea church, a mile northwest of Washington, is one of the oldest organizations of the Disciple church in Richland county.  St. Peter’s church, five miles south of Mansfield on the old State road, is of the German Reform denomination.  It is commonly known as the “Settlement” church, because it is in the German settlement.  St. Peter’s was a branch of St. John’s, of Mansfield, until 1865, when it was given full church functions and privileges.  The first church building was a log structure, and was dedicated on Whit-Sunday, 1848.  The date chosen for the dedication showed that the Germans were in touch with church traditions.

The late ex-Governor John P. Altgeld passed his boyhood years in Washington township, and worked on his father’s farm, situate amid its rugged hills.  But by close application to his studies, qualified himself for teaching, and after teaching a country school for several terms he went west and became a lawyer, then a judge of the court of the city of Chicago, then the governor of the great state of Illinois.

Among the prominent residents of Washington township today mention should be made of ‘Squire John Gerhart, who served two terms as county commissioner; John and W B. Knox, Martin Touby, wealthy farmers.  Samuel Spayde is always ready to furnish martial music for soldiers’ reunions.  There are the Kochheisers, the Kiners, the Ritters, the Lawrences, the Culvers, the Straubs, Kennedy, Kinney, McKee, Hammett, Lutz, Hesselton, Swigart, Clever, McFarland, Balliet, Charles Pollock, Harter, Fulton and Maglott, each of whom deserve more mention than space will admit of here.  Dr. Maglott of this city was a Washington township boy.

James McVey Pearce was born, reared and has always lived in the Pearce settlement as he does today.  He was named for a pioneer preacher of the Disciple church.  You must not estimate the value of his lands nor the amount of his bank deposits by the clothes he wears.  If you visit his home you will be hospitably treated, for he is a liberal entertainer, a good citizen and a loyal friend.

R. C. McFarland came from Washington township, as also did the Sewell brothers, and William now represents our country at a foreign port.

In writing of this township again, personal sketches will be leading features, and information along these lines is requested.

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