History of Urbana Township, Champaign County, OH

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


Urbana township is one of the townships of the county the date of whose organiation has not been definitely established. The present township was definitely established with its present limits some time between 1811 and 1814. A record in the commissioners' minutes for 1814 defines its limits as they are today: That is, all of township 5 in range 11, and the northern tier of sections in range 10. The township thus contains forty two sections or a total of 26,880 acres. It is the same size as Mad River township, which adjoins on the west, Salem being to the north, Union to the east and Clark county on the south.


The township lies in the valley of the Mad river, but the river cuts the township only slightly on the western side. A small stream named in honor of one of the earliest pioneers of the township, Pierre Dugan, runs through the city of Urbana and empties into Mad river about two miles southwest of the city. Other streams in the county are known as Bogle's run, Moore run and Buck creek, while numerous smaller streams do not rise to the dignity of a name. Many of these have been tiled within the past two years and have entirely disappeared from the face of the earth. An examination of old maps of Urbana township reveals an interesting feature in one respect. Scattered over the eastern and southern portions of the township, as it appears in an atlas issued in 1872, were no fewer than twenty three bodies of water which are labeled "stock ponds," three of which were of sufficient size to be designated as lakes. The largest lake is Dugan, located a mile and a half east of Urbana. This does not include a so called "factory pond" within the corporation limits of Urbana, nor, of course, the modern artificial bodies of water to be found west of the city along the Pennsylvania railroad tracks. Taken as a whole, the township is decidedly rolling in the northern part, but the southern part is level to the degree that it has been known as "Pretty Prairie" since the earliest history of the county.

That part of the township west of the Urbana Springfield road lies in the broad valley of Mad river and is comparatively level. The highest point recorded in the township by the United States geological survey is twelve hundred and seventy two feet, the average for the entire township being about ten hundred feet above the sea level.

The general fertility of the soil of the township will measure with that of any other township in the county. No better farming land is to be found in the world than in the Mad river valley, while the Pretty Prairie section of the county is not far behind the river valley in productiveness. With modern methods of drainage and tillage much of the land which had formerly become depleted in plant food has been restored in a large measure to its pristine degree of fertility.


The best evidence points to the organization of Urbana township by the county commissioners in the fall of 1811. The absence of the commissioners' records for the years prior to 1819 compels the historian to fall back upon the records of the old pioneers themselves as expressed in their published writings. Undoubtedly the best local authority on this subject was the late William Patrick, who located in Urbana in 1811 and resided there until his death in 1891. He always referred to the township as beginning its political existence the same year he arrived here. J. W. Ogden, another local historian, makes the statement that "The election of Urbana township given as the first election held in the township, was held in Urbana, October 8, 1811." From another source ("History of Champaign and Logan Counties," 1872, p. 269) has been taken the. complete record of this first election. It follows:


Poll Book of the township of Urbana, in the county of Champaign, on the eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and eleven. Zephaniah Luce, William Stevens and William Glenn. Judges, and Joseph Hedges and Daniel Helmick, Clerks, of this election, were severally sworn, as the law directs, previous to their entering on the duties of their respective offices.


Lawrence White, Joseph Gordon, William H. Fyffe, Samuel McCord, George Hunter, James Robinson, Benjamin Doolittle, Nathaniel Pinkard, Daniel Helmick, George Fithian, Joseph Hedges, Zephaniah Luce, William Glenn, Nathaniel Morrow, John Higdon, John Huston, Alexander Allen, Joseph Ford, John Williams, Britton Lovett, James Askin, James McGill, Jacob Arney, Hugh Gibbs, James Dallas, Samuel Hoge, John Gilmore, John McCord, William Stevens, Anthony Patrick, Henry Bacon, Simon Kenton, David W. Parkison, Nathan Fitch, Frederick Ambrose, William Powell, Jacob Slagal, James Fithian, David Moody, Daniel Harr, Isaac Robinson, Edward W. Pierce, John Thompson, John Thomas, John Schryock, James Wilkinson, Enos Thomas, Isaac Shockey, William Bridge, John Reynolds, John A. Ward, John Trewett, William Largent, William Rhodes, Joseph Ayres, Sr., Allen Oliver, Thomas West, Nicholas Carpenter, John White, John Glenn, John Largent, Daniel Largent, Jacob Pence, Curtis M. Thompson, Andrew Richards, Job Clemons, Timothy Giffert, Sanford Edmonds, Thomas Moore, John Rhodes, Alexander McCumpsey, Robert Noe, John Ford, Francis Stevenson, Robert Taber, John Frazel, Tolson Ford, Job Gard. James Davidson, Samuel Clifton. John Stewart, Thomas Trewett, Benjamin Nichols, John Fitcher, Joseph Pence, Nelson Largent.

This shows a total of eighty seven voters in the township of Urbana. The officers elected at the first election were as follow: Trustees, Zephaniah Luce, William Glenn and William Stevens; overseers of the poor, John Reynolds and Charles Stewart; fence viewers, William Bridge and William Powell; supervisors, William Rhodes and William Parkison; house appraisers and listers, David Vance and Daniel Helmick; treasurer, Joseph Hedges. Although the name of Daniel Helmick does not appear as clerk in 1811, nor is there a record of any clerk being elected that year, yet he appears as the first incumbent of the office. John Rhodes succeeded Helmick as clerk in 1815, but Helmick returned to office in 1816 and served until William Patrick took the office in 1820. The honor of holding a township officer longer than any other man in the county is probably clue William Patrick. Beginning in 1820 he was elected year after year until 1852, making a continuous service of thirty two years.


The city of Urbana began its separate political career in 1816 and since that time the history of the township has been largely the history of the city. Most of the incidents which have been preserved concerning the early pioneers of the township are connected with the early settlers of the county seat. Very early in the history of the county the county seat had a larger population than the township in which it is located and in 1910 the county seat was credited with a population of seventy seven hundred and thirty nine, the township being credited with eleven hundred and ninety four. The part played by the inhabitants of the village and township in Urbana during the Indian troubles and in the War of 1812 is related in the military chapter elsewhere in this volume. It may be stated in this connection, however, that General Hull camped in the village of Urbana in the summer of 1812 and that the village was a rendezvous for the troops which were to be sent north to Detroit and other points around the Great Lakes. The county of Champaign, and particularly Urbana, played no inconspicuous part in the military affairs of the West from 1812 to 1815. Judge Patrick recalled that a block house stood on the northeast corner of South Main and East Market streets, across from the present interurban station.


It is difficult to determine who was the first permanent settler within the present limits of Urbana township. Certainly there was a number of settlers in the township before Urbana was laid out as the county seat in the fall of 1805. Thomas Pearce had a log cabin on East Market street, just north of the site of the later market house, and he was living in it as early as 1803. There is no doubt but that he was the first man to settle on the site of the present city of Urbana. He was the father of Harvey Pearce, who lived to a ripe old age in the township.

Pierre Dugan is sometimes credited to Urbana township, but this old pioneer, often given the honor of being the first settler in the county, never lived within the present limits of Urbana township. His cabin was in the southeastern corner of Salem township, about two miles northeast of the city of Urbana, where the Pennsylvania railroad crosses the highway. Such information as has been preserved concerning Dugan may be seen in the discussion of Salem township.

In 1871 William Patrick and Col. Douglas Luce, the latter a resident of Urbana since 1807, made an attempt to list all of the settlers of Urbana and Urbana township up to the time of the war of 1812. This list is given as it appears in the "History of Champaign and Logan Counties" (p. 70), and it will be noticed that it comprises practically the same names shown on the poll book of the township in 1811. There are several settlers whose names do not appear either on the poll book or the Patrick Luce list. The latter list follows: Samuel Powell, Abraham Wiley, John Fitzpatrick, Joseph Knox, James Largent, John Thomas, Joseph Pence, Jacob Pence, William Rhoads, Joseph Ford, Ezekiel Thomas, John Trewitt, George Sanders, Jesse Johnson, Benjamin Nichols, William Cummings, John White, Robert Noe, Robert Barr, Alexander McBeth, Isaac Shockey, Major Thomas Moore, Thomas M. Pendleton, Elisha Tabor, Bennett Tabor, Fabian Engle, Job Clevenger, James Dallas, John Winn, S. T. Hedges, Jonas Hedges, Rev. James Dunlap, John Pearce, John Dawson, Charles Stuart, Christopher Kenaga, Minney Voorhees, Jacob Arney, John G. Caldwell, Robert Caldwell, Richard D. George, Thomas Donlin, Isaac Turman, William McRoberts, Andrew Richards, Thomas Watt and two men by the name of Logan and Wise, respectively, the latter living near the pond which bore his name.

As has been stated, the history of Urbana township is largely the history of the city of Urbana. There are no towns outside of the county seat, unless an incipient urban center called Bowlusville in the southeastern corner of the township, and Powhattan, be considered as such. On the site of Bowlusville, as far as Champaign county is concerned, there is one of the best looking cornfields the historian has even seen. This quondam village of one hundred and fifty seven lots makes a nice appearance on paper, but it never advanced beyond the paper stage.


The city of Urbana has increased its territorial limits from year to year and now occupies in Urbana township all of sections 23 and 24 and parts of sections 17, 18, 22, 28, 29 and 30 - an area of slightly more than five sections or thirty two hundred acres. Dominating, as it does, the township, it is to be expected that there are fewer churches and mills of one kind and another within the limits of the township proper than are to be found in some other townships of the county. Churches have existed, however, in the rural districts in the township since its earliest history. A Methodist church about three miles east of town (section 5), a Presbyterian church about five miles southeast of town (section 7), and the Hickory Grove Baptist church, two miles south of town (section 27), are three churches of the township which have maintained an existence for a long period of years. The only mill outside of Urbana which is recorded as being in operation in the seventies stood in the southwestern corner of the township on the banks of Cedar run and was evidently operated by water power.

The county infirmary is located in the northeast quarter of section 27, about a mile south of the city. A complete history of the infirmary is given in another chapter. The old camp meeting ground, probably the most famous tract of land in the county in many respects, was located near the center of section 15, about two miles due south of the city limits. These grounds attracted people from all over the United States and were still in use until the buildings burned down on November 17, 1904. The history of the grounds is noted elsewhere.


The Indians have been charged with many things, but among a few of the many good things which they left behind in Champaign county is the name of the village of Powhattan in Urbana township. At least, the name is pleasantly suggestive of the Indian and redolent of the aborigines who hunted and fished up and down the creek which meanders through the ancient village of Powhattan. In the years before the Civil War there was a prospect that the little village might become of some importance industrially, but now there is only one establishment of any kind to be found in the once flourishing center.

The origin of the village and the reason for its existence are shrouded in obscurity. Undoubtedly the presence of Buck creek with its ample water power for small mills was largely responsible for such a village as finally sprung up in the southeastern corner of Urbana township in section 1, where Buck creek crosses from Urbana into Union township. While the date of the beginning of the village is unknown it is certain that in the fifties there was a woolen factory in charge of W. Wharton, a shoe shop run by J. Guinn, a store owned by someone whose name has now been lost, a blacksmith shop operated by another unremembered man, a store or shop in charge of Joseph Evans, and, finally, Dr. Evan Banes had his headquarters in the village.

The woolen mill was operated for a number of years, but it finally passed into hands which converted it into a flouring mill and it continued in this capacity until it was discontinued. Only one industry in the village has continued through the years - a follower of and a knight of the anvil and bellows has always been found at that point since the first craftsman in iron and steel there fired his forge. A few straggling houses, some three or four, are all that is left of the village which sixty years ago was the center of a thriving trade. Like the Indian after whom it was named, it has run its race.

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