History of Harrison Township, Champaign County, Ohio

From: History of Champaign County, Ohio
Judge Evan P. Middleton, Supervising Editor
B. F. Bowen & Company Inc. (Publisher)
Indianapolis, Indiana 1917


Harrison township, the smallest township in the county was a part of the Mad River township which was set off by the associate judges on April 20, 1805. As the county increased in population it was further subdivided into civil townships and with the creation of Logan county to the north and Clark county to the south in 1817 Champaign county was reduced to its present limits.

Harrison township came into existence as the result of a petition to the county commissioners, but it was not given the limits which it has today until 1828, when the southern tier of sections was added. As the township is now constituted it contains twenty four sections, the three southern tiers of range 13, township 4, and the northern tier of range 12, township 4. It is bounded on the north by Logan county, on the east by Salem township, on the south by Concord township and on the west by Adams township.


The central and eastern portion of the township drain into Mad river through Gladys creek. Muddy creek and Emery creek also furnish drainage for the southern part of the township, their waters emptying into Mad river, which river just cuts the southeastern corner of the township. The northwestern corner of the township is drained by Lee creek and Grave creek, both of which eventually find their way into the Great Miami. These streams, aided by extensive systems of artificial drainage, have brought the township to a place where it is one of the best drained in the county. The dredging of Mad river during the past few years has meant the reclamation of a considerable portion of the eastern and southeastern portions of the township which were formerly untillable during wet seasons. Following the dredging of Mad river the mouths of Muddy creek and Gladys creek were dredged for a distance of five hundred feet and this made a very appreciable difference in the ability of these streams to carry off the water of their respective. basins.


Harrison township was one of the last townships in the county to be settled, a fact due to its dense forests and the general swampiness of the land. The first settler of the township was a man by the name of Fuson, a native of Virginia, who came on horseback from his native state to Champaign county about 1804. There is an interesting story connected with his trip from Virginia to this county, and it is given here as it has been repeated in former annals of the county. It it said that Fuson brought with him from Virginia his saddle bags full of white corn and dropped the grain at intervals all along the road; at least he had some of the corn left when he reached Champaign county. So closely is he identified with the introduction of white corn in the West that Fuson corn is now know throughout the Mississippi valley.

Fuson located in Harrison township about 1808, entering a part of section 24, and lived there the remainder of his days. He was one of the first trustees of the township upon its organization and served in that capacity for a number of years. His first wife died and he later married Jane Johnson. His children by his first marriage were William, James, John, Jeremiah, Hannah, Arthur and Celia; by his second marriage his children were Philander, Millie, Minerva, Milton, Dora and some who died in infancy.


The second settler in the township was Ralph Robinson who located in section 25 in 1809. At the time he entered his first quarter of a section he was unmarried, but he later married Hannah Conklin and it is presumed that their marriage was the first solemnized in the township. They reared a large family in the township. Robinson died in 1854 on the farm where he started life after his marriage.

Probably the third settler in the township was Jacob Sarver, a native of Virginia, born in 1779, and married in 1802 to Nancy Robinson, a native of Pennsylvania. They located in Harrison township probably as early as 1808, entering a quarter of section 25. He died in 1844 and his wife survived until 1872, she being ninety six years of age at the time of her death.

William Wilson was one of the first half dozen settlers of the township. He was born in Ireland in 1780 and came to America in 1793 with his father, James, and his uncle, Charles. They located in Virginia and in that state William grew to manhood and married Rebecca Humphreys about 1805 or 1806. In 1807 the young couple, in conjunction with several others, packed all of their household belongings and set out for the promised land - the state of Ohio. They first located in what is now Clark county, then Champaign county, but four years later located on section 12 in what is now Harrison township. For some reason they were not satisfied with their new location in Harrison township and a year or two later found them back at their old home near Springfield. The year 1816, however, saw them back in Harrison township and there they continued to reside until their deaths. He died in 1832 and his wife in 1848. They were the parents of a number of children, Mary, James, Andrew, William, Margaret and John H. The latter son was treasurer of the township for a number of years, a very eccentric sort of a man, but always regarded as an honest and upright citizen.


Jeptha Terrell, one of the early settlers of the township, was born in Virginia in 1776 and after marrying Sarah Barnes in his native state, came to Champaign county in 1811. Terrell had entered a part of section 32, the patent being dated March 2, 1812, and on this he and his young wife located in the spring of 1812 and lived the remainder of their days. They reared a family of twelve children and their son, Timothy, born June 28, 1797, was the last one of the family to live in the township. He served as justice of the peace for a number of years and passed away in the latter part of the eighties. At the time of his death he was the oldest person in point of residence in the township.

Elijah T. Davis, a native of Kentucky, came to this township in 1815 and settled in section 33. He had married Elizabeth Vance in Kentucky and their first son, Benjamin, was born in Kentucky in 1804 and came with his parents to Champaign county. He married Peggy Wilson in 1827, and she dying in 1831, he was married two years later to Sarah Risor, who died in 1864. Elijah T. Davis and wife had two daughters in addition to the one son. E. T. Davis died in 1840. His son, Benjamin, died in 1873.

Joseph Wilson was the first of the family of that name to locate in Harrison township and his arrival in 1817 marks the beginning of a new era in the Wilson family history. Wilson was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, February 24, 1792, and the year after his marriage in 1816 to Eleanor Fullerton he and his young wife came to Champaign county and located on section 27. His wife died on July 30, 1832, and in March of the following year he married Amanda Spencer. She died in 1862 and he survived his second wife four years. Sixteen children were the fruits of these two unions among whom were the following: Miles, Joseph, Henry, Ebenezer, Dr. J. F., Sallie, David, Clark, H. B., Nancy, Ella and Thomas. Ella was the wife of James B. Armstrong, county surveyor, county treasurer, and president of the first national bank established in Urbana.

Peter Speece, another of the many Virginians to locate in the county, entered land in section 25 of Harrison township in 1814. Jacob Sarver, who has been previously mentioned, moved Speece from his Virginia home to his new home in Harrison township and the two farmers lived side by side for years. William Speece, one of the sons of Peter, was worth fifty cents on his wedding day in addition to whatever value he may have placed upon his wife, but in the course of time he became the wealthiest man in the township and one of the wealthiest in the county. This family is still well represented in the county.

William Jones came from Virginia to Clark county in 1816 and to Harrison township, Champaign county, in 1827, locating on section 24. When the Jones family left Virginia all they had besides a large family of children was the wagon which brought them here, valued at eight dollars, and one horse which was purchased for ten dollars. Jones himself walked the whole way while part of the children trudged along most of the time. The family were so poor that the children went without shoes from one end of the year to the other. And yet when Jones died he was worth twenty thousand dollars. Most of his children settled in the West.


Among the other early settlers of Harrison township may be mentioned John Taylor, who came here about 1817, and subsequently married Jane Vance, a sister of Governor Vance. Two of their sons became bank presidents; Oliver, president of the First National Bank of Urbana, and Samuel, president of the National Bank of West Liberty. John McIntire, a native of Virginia, settled here about 1813. Thomas Daniels came from Virginia and located in section 19 before the War of 1812.

Prominent among the later group of settlers were Adam Hanger, Ebenezer McDonald, William Kirkwood and George Leonard. The first of the Hangers came in 1840, in which year Adam Hanger bought a large tract of land in sections 8 and 9. Ebenezer McDonald, a combination of Virginian and Abolitionist, came to the county in 1810 and to Harrison township about the middle of the twenties, locating on section 9. McDonald married Anna Kelley near Mt. Tabor church in 1818 and to this union were born ten children. William Kirkwood was married when he came here in 1817. He was an Irishman whose father was a participant in the Revolutionary War shortly after coming to this country and was the recipient of land for his services. The senior Kirkwood came with his son and the latter's wife to Champaign county and settled with them on section 3. William had a son, David, named after his grandfather, who succeeded to the paternal estate after the death of his father in 1849. The wife of William died in 1870.

George Leonard came to Salem township from Virginia in 1805 and in 1839 located near Spring Hills. The family lived there for many years and its representatives are still to be found in the county. One of his sons became a noted physician and eventually president of the Ohio State Medical Society.

While definite data has been preserved concerning the old settlers above enumerated, there are many others who were no doubt as prominently identified with the early history of the township. A perusal of the deed records shows the following land owners registered in the township before 1820: Section 1, Mathew Kavanaugh; section 7, Joseph Carle and Joseph Hewlings; section 13, Joseph Hewlings and Miles Wilson; section 26, James McAlexander; section 3o, John Humphreys and William. Wilson. Of this number the Hewlings family were probably the most widely represented in the township in later years. Joseph Hewlings entered land as early as 1811 and kept entering additional tracts from year to year until he was one of the largest landowners in the township.


The first settlers who ventured into what is now Harrison township found a number of the original owners of the land still occupying it. The latter had no legal right to remain on the land, but they kept coming there year after year in the summer until the whites had taken formal possession of their once "happy hunting ground." These Indians were uniformly peaceful and never troubled the settlers except to annoy them with begging. They would not steal and, while they would not always tell the truth about everything, yet they were not much different from some of the New England Yankees on that score.

At the opening of the War of 1812 there was such apprehension concerning the Indians that the settlers got together and built a fort on the farm of Ralph Robinson, about two miles south of Spring Hills, which is known in the military annals of the township as Ft. Robinson. This fort or stockade was built during the summer of 1812 and included a sufficient tract to accommodate all of the families of the neighborhood. It was built of logs cut about the length of a rail - eight feet - which were sunk in a trench about three feet deep, or to a sufficient depth to make a firm stockade of the perpendicular logs. William Wilson was detailed to take charge of the fort and was in charge when the news of Hull's surrender of Detroit reached the neighborhood. The settlers were thrown into a panic and most of them hurried to the stockade with their families. Jacob Sarver rode at once to Ft. Piqua to get definite information concerning the Indians and what might be expected from them. He soon returned with the news that there was no danger of any Indian uprising or of any invasion by the British soldiers. As far as is known no settlers were killed by the Indians in this township, no actual encounters ever having taken place, although some troublesome Indians were to be seen in the township for several years after the War of 1812. Some Indians were occasional visitors until in the twenties, but by the latter part of that decade all vestiges of former Indian occupation had disappeared forever.


Among a large number of incidents concerning the early pioneers in Harrison township it is possible to present only a few. Although this is the smallest township in the county, it would be possible to write a volume telling of conditions as they existed during the years which have passed since the township first came into existence. Hunting stories would easily fill a chapter; stories of panther, bear, deer, wolf and turkey hunts are common to this township, as to all others of the county. The story has been handed through three generations of how James Kavanaugh shot a panther out of a tree one night while a party was out hunting. The panther dropped to the ground in the agony of death and crushed the skull of one of the dogs before finally being dispatched.

The McIntire family have handed down a story which shows the honesty of the old settlers. Few instances are on record of robberies or swindles in the early history of the county. Thomas McIntire, one of the wealthy citizens of the township, was known to keep large amounts of silver specie in his house, but although this was common information he was never robbed. At one time the family were all away and eight hundred dollars was left in the house with no thought on the part of the family of hiding it.

The Terrells were probably more numerous for several years than any other family in the township. There was hardly a public gathering where there would not be from a dozen to a score of the members of this family present. Timothy Terrell is said to have planted the first apple tree in the township. The first graveyard was on the farm of Ralph Robinson about two miles south of Spring Hills, its first occupant being a child which lost its life by being burned to death. Two children of Samuel Robinson died with the whooping cough and they became the next dwellers in this first city of the dead.

The first suicide in the township is said to have occurred on July 4, 1846. The unfortunate person was a boy named Jacob Franklin, a poor lad who had been apprenticed to Nathan Crutcher. On this particular day there was a big celebration at Spring Hills and the boy asked to be allowed to attend, but he was not allowed to go. After the family had gone away to spend the day, the poor boy took his master's gun and shot himself. The family found him weltering in his own blood when they returned that evening. As may be imagined the affair caused great excitement in the countryside.


There have never been many mills in Harrison township. One reason was because there were many mills in adjoining townships which were easily accessible to the early settlers, and also the fact that there was a good mill early erected on Graves creek, just south of Spring Hills. The settlers themselves co-operated in constructing the race to provide an ample supply of water for this mill, just who was its first owner not being known. Later Jeptha Terrell owned it and in connection with the grist mill installed a distillery and still later added a saw mill. The first blacksmith shop was in charge of one Charles Fielder in the village of Spring Hills and he was in charge of the anvil and forge in that place for many years.

One of the few pioneers grist mills of the county is still in operation and is owned by Gottlieb Seigenthaler of Spring Hills. The mill is located just south of the village and was built about 1858 by Dan Melhorn. The mill race which is more than one half mile long, was built shortly before the mill. A saw mill stood just below the race before the grist mill was erected and the water power to run it was secured from this race. Since Mr. Seigenthaler became the owner of the mill several improvements have been made in the mill, including the installation of a turbine in 1892.

The remains of the large mill dam which was built by a man named Ironschmidt are still to he seen. The dam as it appears today is nearly twenty feet high, through the center of which is a large opening caused by the flood of 1881, when the whole valley was flooded. The dam broke previous to this time and was repaired, but nothing was done to it after the flood above mentioned. The dam was built originally to furnish power for the saw and grist mill which was located just below the dam. Another one of the early mills was a corn cracker, located two and one half miles from Spring Hills on Landes creek.


The present village of Spring Hills was laid out as Middleburg on March 17, 1832, by Joseph Woods, proprietor. The original plat contained forty seven lots and one lot labeled "meeting house lot." To this original plat two additions have been made: March 13, 1840, thirty lots by Benjamin Sweet; March 13, 1848, twenty two lots by Joseph Woods.

The inland location of the village and its remoteness from the railroad has made it impossible to make any substantial growth. It has not numbered more than two hundred souls since the seventies and its industries have naturally been small, confined as they have been to a few stores and blacksmith shops. However, at one time it was one of the most promising villages of the county. In the eighties there was a railroad projected which would have passed through the village - the Bellefontaine, Troy & Evansville railroad - but it never materialized and there is no prospect at the present time that a railroad will ever reach the village.

When Joseph Woods laid out his town in 1832 he placed the lots on sale and a number of them were sold at prices ranging from seven to forty dollars. In that same year John Vance erected the first building and it was used as a combined dwelling house and store. An addition to this building was later added by Doctor Pringle, who was the first physician, and in it he established what he chose to call an apothecary shop. George Shaw built the second house in the village in 1833, a log structure which stood until in the latter part of the eighties. It seems that Joseph Irwin was the first blacksmith to start a regular blacksmith shop in the village, although Charles Fielder had done blacksmith work on the site of the village several years before it was laid out. George Bell opened the first tavern in the building which was erected in 1832 by Vance and later used by Doctor Pringle as a dwelling house and office. A large two story brick building was built a few years after the war by Isaac Eads, Mathew Cretcher and other citizens on the main street of the village. This became the principal building of the town, contained the largest store and was looked upon as a model of city architecture.

It is not possible to follow the coming and going of the several merchants, blacksmiths and physicians who have lived at one time or another in Spring Hills. During the Civil War John C. Eby, later mayor for a number of years, opened a tavern known as the Eureka Hotel. Eby had been a blacksmith in the village for a number of years and was also in the mercantile business for a while. He was one of the most prominent figures in the life of the village for many years. Doctors Pringle and Wilson were succeeded in later years by Dr. T. T. Hale and Dr. C. A. Offenbacher, both of whom came to the village about 1870. There have been physicians in the village since Doctor Pringle first hung out his shingle.

In the years following the Civil War Joseph E. Piatt located in the village and opened a harness shop. One industry which should be mentioned in connection with Spring Hills is a flouring mill which was in operation as early as the forties. William M. Bean, a practical miller, a soldier in the Confederate army. came to Champaign county in the fall of 1865 and took charge of the Arrowsmith mill on Mad river and operated it until 1869. He later was in Missouri, farming and milling for about five years, after which he returned to Champaign county and took charge of the flouring mill just south of Spring Hills.


The high tide of the village seems to have been reached about the time of the opening of the Civil War. The following extract taken from one of the Urbana newspapers draws a vivid picture of the village as it looked to its correspondent at the time: "It was a manufacturing place, and during the height of its industrial career at least twenty five industries were in operation. Among the important industries was a boot and shoe manufacturing establishment, which was conducted by a firm known as Fry & Burkhardt, and another of the same which was conducted by a man named Hopkins. There was a cigar shop which employed four or five men and which was owned by Frank Bull; there was also a harness shop which employed four or five men and was conducted by Alexander Piatt. Three cooper shops were running at full blast and employed several men, but with the advancement of time this industry long ceased to exist. A firm by the name of Skeen & Horr were manufacturers of brooms; there was one tailor shop that employed two or three men; one cabinet making shop; one tannery employing several men; also a large brick kiln that employed not only men of the village but of the surrounding community. There were two first class general stores and one grocery; one chair manufacturer; two good blacksmith shops; two first class hotels, and, very close to the village, an excellent flour mill, a saw mill and wagon manufacturing establishment. In connection with these business industries may also be mentioned the fact that the village had two saloons. The religious life of the community was well taken care of as is evidenced by the fact that at that early date there were three churches in the village."


The village was called West Middleburg until an application was made to have a postoffice established, when it was learned that a village of that same name existed in Logan county. A postoffice was established under the name of Spring Hills, John Vance being the first postmaster. Newton Barnett was the last postmaster. During the early days the people of the village received their mail by means of a "star route" from DeGraff to Urbana. J. L. Wren and a man by the name of Porter carried the mail between these points for several years.

Among the early business men of the village was the firm of Main & Trout, who kept a general store. David Pitman was an active merchant during the war. and James Smith kept a store where Barnett's store is now. In later years John Espy built a store where Perry Garver's grocery is at the present time. Newton Barnett, the leading merchant of the village at the present time, was a clerk in Espy's store.

The village still maintains its corporate identity, the officers for 1917 being the following: Walter R. Dorsey, mayor; Edward Moore, clerk; James Barnett, treasurer; Frank Smith, health officer; O. P. Garver, Herman Garver, councilmen. About the year 1900 the township and the village erected a public hall for all public gatherings. The one secret society, Junior Order of United American Mechanics, became dormant in the fall of 1916.

The business interests of today are as follow: Newton Barnett, general store; Perry Garver, grocery; John Peck, grocery; Thomas Kemp, barber; Samuel Siegenthaler, grist mill; Harvey Kemp, shoe cobbler; David Hostetler, blacksmith, C. Corwin, blacksmith.

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