One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago the following column ran in The Sunbury News as Berkshire Township, Delaware County, Ohio, celebrated its 100th birthday.  Now Berkshire township is 200 years old and it is time to look at its history again.

Some historic facts have been discovered since Mrs. Stark did her research and these will be added as links to her text.

The following was read by Mrs. Nellie Stark,
at the recent Berkshire Centennial dinner
at the home of Mr. J. D. Hubbard:

What is now Berkshire village and township, was one hundred years ago for the most part a dense forest through which the savage roamed in his civilized state, but "westward the tide of empire takes its way," and to these savage wilds, under such conditions, the pioneer found his way. It is but fitting that upon this occasion, this year being the one hundredth since his advent here, that we pay tribute to the memory of our pioneer fathers who have long since been laid to rest. The men who opened up these forests to civilization were practical men. They came here to better their conditions, and went to work with energy and zeal to clear their land and build homes in these savage wilds. They were also men of culture, and while they labored to better their material prospects, they labored also to bring into the community the highest elements of religion and social life. In this brief sketch I can but touch upon the points of interest, and that but briefly, but I will endeavor to give you an outline of the first settlers with some items of interest connected with their history.

The pioneer of Berkshire was Colonel Moses Byxbe, of Lenox, Berkshire Co., Mass., a man of wealth and standing in his native town. He had come into possession of a large number of soldiers' land warrants, and located them in Sec. 2 of what is now Berkshire township, and in Sec. 1 of the present township of Berlin, 8,000 acres in all. In June, 1804, he fitted out a four-horse team in charge of Orlando Barker, a three-horse team in charge of Witter Stewart, and a one-horse wagon driven by Solomon Smith, and loading with household goods, and goods from his store, the little colony set out, following the track of the Scioto colony, which started the year previous. Byxbe himself led the way with his family in a two-horse carriage, an evidence of his wealth, as carriages were not common in those days. He persuaded Edward Potter, a nephew of his, then a boy of thirteen years, to come with him, promising him a position of clerk in the store he proposed to start. Also Azariah Root, of Pittsfield, Mass, a surveyor, who proved very useful to the colony.

After many perilous adventures they reached Worthington, 0hio, late in August. Leaving his family there, he came on to his land here. He chose his building site on the banks of Little Walnut, where he built cabins for his house and stables. About a half mile south of where the Corners now are, on the Berkshire road, he built a cabin for Mr. Root. Early in November the first load of household goods reached Berkshire, and soon the two families were established in their new homes, the first in the county. Byxbe then went back to Massachusetts and persuaded other settlers to follow. This they did, and we find the names of Mr. Curtis, a shoemaker, who came early in 1805; John Kilbourne, Ralph Slack, Elam Vining, a Mrs. Harper, and Adonijah Rice, among the first settlers. Then, in 1806, Maj. Brown, with his family, David Prince, and John Patterson, with their families, followed.

In 1807, Ichabod Plumb, with his family, and Dr. Reuben Lamb, with his wife and child, carne. Dr. Lamb remained but a short time. Being dissatisfied with the place, he moved to Worthington, but later returned to Berkshire, and was its first physician. In 1811, Maj. Brown built the first brick house in the township, a little north of the corners, at present owned by Mrs. Gibson. During the war of 1812, this house was used as a rallying point, and a place of security for the families of the little settlement.

The first store at Berkshire Corners was started by Col. Byxbe, with Azariah Root in charge. The first tavern was kept by Adonijah Rice, and he was also the first post-master, having the P.O. in connection with his tavern. About the same time, Maj. Brown opened a hotel at his house. The prices for board were not exorbitant, at least we would not think so now. Single meals were from 15 to 20 cts., and board by the week from one dollar to one dollar and a half. The pioneers of this place were a religious people, and among them were those of the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist belief.

The first sermon was preached at Berkshire, in Maj. Brown's house by Bishop Chase, in 1818. On Easter Monday, March 23, 1818, the Episcopal Church was organized at the house of David Prince. About ten years later, 1828, they built a fine brick church or what was thought fine for that day, a short distance east of the comers, on what was then called the Granville road, it having been surveyed in 1805 by Mr. Root. The fate of this church building is well known, it being our present school house. The Presbyterians never built a church here, but Rev. Ebenezer Washburn, about 1818, came here and held services in the cabins for two or three years. The present Methodist Church was organized with twenty-five members, in 1858, by Rev. Amos Wilson and a church erected in 1860.

Our early pioneers adhered to that principle set forth in the ordinance of 1787, that “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” I could find no authentic account of when the first school house was built, but it was no doubt very early, and was a round log house, built by Col. Byxbe east of the corners on the Granville road. I am told that another was built later near what is now the Dustman home. The first teacher was a Miss Thompson, from Worthington. The Berkshire Academy was the first attempt in the way of more advanced education, and was established about 1840-41. The building was a frame, costing about three or four hundred dollars, and the expense of building was defrayed by the sale of shares at ten dollars each. It was located just east of the Episcopal Church. The first teacher in this school was G. S. Bailey, of Oberlin, and perhaps there are those yet living who were pupils at this school. The building, however, has been graded down and divided, and is at present used as a hennery and woodhouse of our townsman, Newton Smith.

The first white child born in the township was Albert Root, in 1807. The first wedding was that of Dr. Spaulding and Cynthia Root. The first death was that of Mrs. Vining, wife of Elam Vining, in 1806, and from the standing timber, the ax and cross-cut saw were made to supply her casket. She was buried about 40 rods south of the comers, in the forest. The trees have all been cleared away, and she was left with not even a tree to mark her burial spot, but the sound of children's voices at their play, or cattle browsing over her grave disturb not her last repose.

It seems almost incredible to us, who are used to luxury, compared with the life the pioneer led, that they could exist in this wilderness so far removed from the civilized world. Their nearest mill at first was Chillcothe, about 60 miles away, and to this they carried their wheat, corn and rye, mounted upon the back of the faithful family horse. Going to mill involved a week's time, and very small grists could be carried, and it was necessary to make the trips often. Salt, which we find so necessary in the culinary department, sold in Berkshire at $3.00 a bushel, and very little could be obtained at that price. About 1808 a mill was constructed on the banks of Alum Creek, about where the covered bridge now stands, by Nathaniel Hull, and this proved to be a great help to the settlement. Here the Indians also brought their corn to be ground. In most cases they were friend1y to the settler, and not much trouble arose from that source.

Clothing was made in the homes by the busy housewives, from wool and flax grown on the farms. They had no glass for windows, and greased paper was used as a substitute.
I could find no account of when the first frame house was built, but the one built by David and Joseph Prince, in 1816, on what is now the Hough farm, was among the first.
Col. Byxbe remained with the settlement but a few years. Selling his land, he went with the Delaware colony, though from the first he had promised that the county seat should be at Berkshire. While many pioneers were much disappointed, we may be proud of the fact that Delaware is but Berkshire's sunset. Let us strive to emulate the virtues, and profit by the mistakes of the early pioneer.

NOTE-We have found later that the first academy, referred to above, was located west of the corners, and is at present the repair shop of J. D. Hubbard. There is also a dispute about the first brick house. Some think it was located just south of the corners, but agree that it was built by Maj. Brown.



Painting of
Alum Creek Covered Bridge

Return to Berkshire Township History
Return to Local History Index