History of Woodstock (Village), Champaign County, OH (Part 1)

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


The history of the village of Woodstock may be traced back nearly one hundred years. During this time the village has lived a quiet and unpretentious life, never aspiring to metropolitan honors, never attempting to delude itself with the idea that it would be more than a village, never holding itself up as an example of a model community center, but during all these years living the life of the ordinary hamlet. Like all villages it has had its ups and downs, its share of lean years and its share of fat years; it has seen many worthy people go out from its precincts and many other worthy people make their homes within them; it has been proud of its school and cherished its churches; it has patronized its home industries as far as possible; in all things it has been true to the genuine village type.

It has, like unto all villages, had its "firsts" in everything. There was the first proprietor, the first settler, the first blacksmith, the first physician, the first school house, the first church, the first saloon, the first mail line, the first hotel - and the first of everything which has been part of its life. In order to give the village its proper setting it is necessary at the outset to set forth its geographical relation to the county and the state at large; how it came into existence; who was responsible for its appearance and, in short, to set forth the facts concerning its entry into the history of the county.

The land on which it is located is a part of Virginia Military Survey No. 7822, and was taken out in the name of Anthony Walke. He never lived on the land and as far as is known never knew of such a place as Woodstock. While the village itself did not have a plat recorded until March 28, 1834, yet there were settlers on its site for several years prior to that date. It seems that about 1819 this survey was purchased from the original proprietor by a number of New Englanders, mostly from Vermont and New Hampshire. The part including Woodstock and a substantial part of Rush township was bought by four Smith brothers (Sylvanus, Samuel, Lester and Dexter), David Holt, Levi Churchill, William Gifford and Benjamin D. Sibley. In 1820 this little group of settlers was augmented by Hezekiah Ripley, Joseph Meacham, James Webb, John McDonald, Harvey Cushman and James Parkhill.

Thus during 1819 and 1820 the present site of Woodstock and the immediate community received about a dozen families, which, added to a few families who a short time previously, had located to the west of the settlement, made a very respectable community. Those in addition to the families already mentioned, were the Corbets and Lanes, about a mile west of Woodstock; also Thomas Irwin and William Wright. Irwin and Wright were Virginians and did not have any particular affection for the Vermonters and consequently sold out in 1835 to Philip Smith, a brother of the Smiths who had settled in the community in 1819 and 1820. Randall Willard secured part of the tract owned by the Virginians and, as soon as they had sold, they left this section of the country for a more congenial climate.

The period from 1820 to 1834 found Woodstock gradually adding to its scattered population, but it was not until the latter year that an effort was made to have it platted. During this period of fourteen years most of the many "firsts" of the village made their appearance, and they may be noticed at this point.


Every community of several families had a physician early in its history and Woodstock was no exception. But the village had an unusual physician as its first healer; she was a woman, Mrs. Sophia Sumner fink, not a regular practicing physician, but withal, one who traveled far and wide in response to requests for her services. She was distinctly a "yarb doctor" and many stories are told of the wonderful concoctions, decoctions, infusions, etc., which she prepared and administered. So unique was her system of therapeutics, so distinctly feminine, that an explanation of her method of procedure is worthy of record.

"Doctor" Holt must have been a sartorial curiosity; her raiment was of a piece with her other idiosyncracies. In her practice she traveled the roads astride an old white mare - that is, the old mare was white when she left the stable, but the farther her mistress traveled the less this color was evident. On the horn of her saddle the good old lady had a big pasteboard box full of roots, herbs, peppers, spices and medicinal plants of every description. Arriving at the home of her patient she proceeded to fill him full of the hottest mixture she could concoct, and, so it is recorded, internal spontaneous combustion was sometimes narrowly avoided. In modern parlance she would undoubtedly have been called a "hot" doctor. One man whom she had treated in this heated manner declared afterwards "that her stuff had made him so hot that his clothes smelled like burnt rags for a month." Following this initial process of getting the patient to the proper temperature she put him in a sweat box "to extract all the juice out of his anatomy possible, then sponged him off with cold water, and wound him up in a woolen blanket to get well or die."

And here comes the strange, but true, part of the story. Her husband was the undertaker of the community, also the coffin maker, while - that nothing might escape - the good old lady herself was fully competent to preach a funeral sermon. Such another combination and co-ordination of interests it would be hard to find. So if the patient lived, she got her fee; if he died - well, he would be taken care of. According to local historians, the doctor-preacher did not hesitate in her funeral sermons to consign her subject to Heavenly bliss, if she felt that was his proper place; nor, on the other hand, if he was not a suitable subject for the heavenly kingdom "she passed him down the trail to the next station, a locality where climatic conditions are good for cold feet." The good old lady has long since dosed her last patient on this earth, but, if as some believe, we follow her earthly vocation in the world to come, the good old lady is still digging herbs, and, to quote from the local historian of her earthly home, "she will have a long time in which to pull herbs and dig roots."


The first church was of the Christian denomination, a branch of the church of this name founded by Elias Smith; but this church, while the first of the community, was about five miles east of the village of Woodstock and about one mile west of the ancient village of Homer, in Union county. The first church in the village proper was a Universalist church and dates from about 1828. Rev. Asher A. Davis was the first minister, a lad of nineteen with a wife of fifteen, and the pair were possessed of about as much ability to run a home in the wilderness as a pair of "babes in the woods." He was, notwithstanding his youth, an eloquent preacher and his wife proved to be just as useful as ornamental. They were so genial and gentle that the rough old settlers took kindly to them and the young couple were really a wonderful blessing to the community. For four years Davis preached, and then it seemed that he began to introduce too much Universalist doctrine into his sermons. Remonstrance on the part of his parishioners did not stop him and finally the young couple were fairly driven out of the community. Strange to say they came back two years later on a visit and by this time the people seemed to have had a change of heart. He delivered a Universalist sermon in Sibley's grove, where a few years before he had preached a Christian sermon - and he held the audience spellbound for two hours. The very people who drove Davis and his wife from the community on account of his espousal of Universalism were the very ones who organized the first church of this denomination in Woodstock.


The first school house was built in the village in 1823 on a lot later owned by Dan Fox. The lot was a generously sized one of an acre and was given by Samuel Smith. This first temple of learning was a log structure and about its only recommendation was its cheapness. An old citizen, Warren D. Sibley, recalled a few years ago that one of the diversions of the boys in this school house - and he was one of them - consisted in pulling out of their pants the splinters which found their way to the boys from the seats on which they had to sit. A word may be said about this first school house of Woodstock as it was described by Mr. Sibley a few years ago.

At the age of four years I was sent there to school to spend six hours each day eo receive instructions about that number of minutes. The rest of the time I spent in plnning slivers off a rough slab sent, without any back, and so high that my feet could not reach the floor without sliding partly oft; which I occasionally did; but if discovered in this position by the teacher, I was certain to get a thump on the head, accompanied by a command to "Crawl back on your slab." There were six little human cubs on this slab and when the teacher could think of nothing meaner to do he would slide his foot along the row tipping us all over backwards. We sat facing a great yawning fireplace sufficiently large to take in one half a cord of wood and topped out with a stick chimney large enough, if laid on the ground, for a good sized mule to puss through. And how the wind would roar and swirl down that chimney, filling the room with smoke, fire and ashes, and then to vary the discomfort, to have a stream of melted snow spout down from the loft and strike a lad in the neck, and drift along down his spinal column, producing a sensation for which no sane boy would banker for a second application.

The description which the foregoing writer gives of a school house in Champaign county in the twenties is typical of most of those in use at that time. The added description which Sibley gives of the management of the school by the teacher may also be taken as typical of teaching methods in the county during the twenties and thirties - and even later. To continue quoting from Sibley:

When the teacher planted himself at his desk to close the school for the day, I was so overjoyed with the prospect of being turned out of that prison that I must have been rather demonstrative and noisy, for the teacher tucked me under his desk and put his foot on me to keep me still, and when my name was called I answered "Here." "Yes, my lad," the teacher said, "You wouldn't be here if I hadn't my foot on you," which was very true, for when a lad of my dimensions was flat on the floor with a foot on his back and that foot hung to a leg about the size of a salt barrel, his chance of being anywhere else is pretty slim. That teacher weighed three hundred and flftyseven pounds, and it was gross in more ways than one. This, my first teacher, was David Ripley, the most popular teacher in Champaign county. As it seemed to me he was subject to tits of cyclonic wrath at the least violation of the rules of the school during school hours, yet at recess, he was a boy among boys and engaged in all boyish sports with avidity. Called the champion of the Darby plains, it was said when he got a fair whack at the ball the surest place to find it would be in the next county.

One essential qualification for a male teacher at that time was his physical ability to lick the biggest boy in the school. Without this qualification the applicant for a school was quite sure to be turned down. The methods in use at that time to punish refractory pupils I felt, as a youth, were an outrage to childhood; and at mature age I know that they were extremely cruel and vicious. Every device that the vile ingenuity of man could invent was adopted to enforce obedience in the school and seemingly the only object to be accomplished was to break down and destroy every particle of independence and self respect that the pupil possessed by nature. The rod, the ferrule, the dunce block, standing on one foot with a book elevated above the head, split quill placed astride the nose and various other methods, equally as humiliating, were in vogue, none of which were calculated to give sensitive boys and girls a very exalted opinion of themselves or any too much self respect.

Apparently the pupils had no right that the teacher was bound to respect. To pet a boy and spare the rod was considered a sure method of sending him down the broad road that leads to death, and the rougher and harder a boy was used, the better his chance of becoming a good and useful citizen here, and a winged pauper in the New Jerusalem.

The school house just described stood from 1823 to 1829, but by the latter year it was deemed necessary to provide a new building. Although Thomas Irwin got the contract for building the new brick building and agreed to have it done by the following December, there were only a few loads of brick on the ground by that time. The new building was to be on the old site and the old one was to be used for school purposes until the new structure was ready for occupancy. During the summer of 1829 the wife of W. D. Sibley taught the summer term in her own home. During the winter of 1829-30 there was no school, and it was not until the first Monday in December, 1830, that the new building was open for school purposes, with Eliphas Burnham as the first teacher. Old settlers unite in calling him a very conscientious, kind hearted and capable teacher.


The history thus far recounted deals with Woodstock before it was platted in 1834. A word should be said at this point concerning the several names which have been applied to the village. The first official plat on record is dated March 28, 1834, and bears the title of "Hartford alias Woodstock." This implies that both names were in current use in 1834 and by inference it would seem that Woodstock was applied to the place at a later date.

It would seem that the local historian, Sibley, would have the best information on the nomenclature of the village. Here is what he says: "An attempt was made at first to call our village Smithville; this, however, did not seem to become popular. It was called New Albany for a while, then Hartford. About 1837 or 1838, a horde of Vermonters came and called the village after the old Woodstock, Vermont. It was sometimes called by people outside the village - Mudsock."

Sibley is incorrect in stating that the name of Woodstock was not applied before 1838, since the plat of 1834 carries the name of Woodstock. Another local authority states that the town was called Woodstock because, when it applied for a postoffice, it was found that there was already a postoffice by the name of Hartford in the state and this made it necessary to select a new name - hence Woodstock became the name of the postoffice and gradually the old name of Hartford was supplanted by the name of Woodstock. Undoubtedly the name was applied because so many of the first. settlers came from the vicinity of Woodstock, Vermont.

The actual platting of the town was done on March 17 and 18, 1834, by John Arrowsmith, county surveyor. The official plat states that it is the "southwest part of survey No. 7822, Anthony Walke, original proprietor, for Sylvanus Smith and Phebe Smith." There were originally forty two lots laid out in a very irregular fashion. The platting of the town was evidently the means of stirring up considerable trouble. While it is impossible to follow the thread of events in 1834, yet the appearance of the first plat, laid out in such an irregular manner, bears witness to the fact that the owners of land adjacent to the crossroads were not working together in harmony.

There were four owners of the four respective corners: Sylvanus Smith had the northwest corner; Phoebe Smith, the northeast; B. D. Sibley, the southeast; Isaac Marsh, the southwest corner. The first plat shows that the Smiths were the only ones to have any of their land platted, and according to local authorities Sibley and Marsh refused to have anything to do with the Smiths in regard to laying out the proposed village, on the ground that the latter would not consent to have the streets straightened so they would cross at right angles. Other local authorities aver that the Smiths were responsible for the town being laid out in such an irregular manner.

Whatever the reason may be for the haphazard platting of the town, it has had no effect on its prosperity, and it may be said that it even adds a certain piquancy to the little village. Before a year had elapsed Sibley had a, change of heart and decided to plat an addition and on January 28, 1835, he recorded a plat of ten lots on his corner the southeast; then, of course, Marsh had to follow suit. On September 5, 1836, he laid out eight queerly shaped lots on his corner the southwest. Subsequent additions have been made by Elias Smith (November 15, 1865, seven lots), and E. M. Bennett (August 5, 1867, ten lots), both being in the southwest corner.

There was only one house standing on the site when the plat of the village was recorded in 1834. Phoebe Smith's house happened to fall on lot 24 and must therefore be recorded for all time to come as the first house erected in Woodstock. This same house was later the property of Joseph Chamberlin and within its homelike precincts was opened the first saloon in the village. The first house erected after the platting in 1834 was erected by David Fl. Hall on lot No. 3 and in it he opened the first shoeshop. William B. Line11, a blacksmith, built the second house on lot No. 2 and put up his shop on lot No. 15. By 1837 houses had been erected on lots Nos. I, 4, 5 and 16. On lot No. I stood a combined store and dwelling house, the property of Ira Johnson, who was also the first postmaster. The blacksmith, Linell, became converted at one of the revivals, sold his shop to Erastus Martin and became a regularly ordained minister in the Universalist church.


One other "first" remains to be noticed. In 1835 Harvey Cushman built a hotel adjoining the present new bank building and for several years conducted the only hostlery in the village. In those days the ceremony of "raising" a house was attended with the consumption of vast quantities of whiskey; in fact, few farmers would have had the courage to invite their neighbors to a house raising or log rolling without providing an ample supply of genuine corn whiskey. On the day that the framework of the Cushman Hotel was raised every man present, except Sylvanus Smith, was drinking and most of them were decidedly under the influence of the liquor.

When the framework was finally up it was decided to christen the future hotel in some such manner as battleships are christened. Accordingly, a bottle of whiskey was provided and the soberest man of the drunken crew was delegated the task of taking a drink and then throwing the bottle, dripping its contents enroute, over the building, and thus was christened Woodstock Hotel. The question of spelling the word hotel was the cause of considerable warm feeling: some said it should be spelled with one "1" and some insisted that two were needed. Sylvanus Smith, being the only sober man in the crowd, was asked to decide the momentous question. Smith looked at the building and then at the motley crowd around him and then pronounced his decision: "If this day is a sample of what the hotel is to be, it should be spelled 'Hot-hell.'" And according to the best authority, "it proved to be a hell of a place for three or four years." To continue the description of this gin shop the local historian says: "Hoodlums gathered there from various localities on Saturday afternoon and continued their bacchanalian orgies in the village, frequently until midnight, terrifying the people by their demoniacal yells, fighting, and running horses on the street."

Fortunately eggs were not as high in price then as now or the following story would not be told. The older and soberer men of the community encouraged the non drinking young men to form a vigilance committee and rid the community of the doggery. Each young fellow gathered two or three dozen eggs of uncertain age and on the next Saturday night, following their plan of campaigns they lay in wait for the revelers. When the drunken mob emerged from the saloon and began to disport themselves on the street the egg laden conspirators turned loose a volley of eggs. A man has to be pretty drunk not to resent an aged egg greeting him face to face and the young men in charge of the egg brigade must have engaged in practice, since it was only a matter of a few minutes before the drunken mob, was ready to beat a retreat. The hotel came in for a share of the omelet and next morning presented a grotesque appearance. This charge of the egg brigade put an effective stop to these weekly orgies, and had a sobering effect on both the proprietor and his customers. The proprietor decided to confine his liquor sales to travelers, and as a result his caravansary became a very respectable tavern.


It is impossible to trace the growth of business enterprises of the village for the eighty years that it has been in existence, but a few of the more important merchants may be mentioned. The first storekeeper, Ira Johnson, has been mentioned. The second store was opened by the firm known as Franklin, Fairchilds & Company, Samuel Franklin furnishing the capital, Deranzell Fairchilds being head manager and Lockwood, a member of the company, serving as clerk. The latter withdrew in 1840 and Franklin & Fairchilds continued the store until about 1850. This firm did an enormous business and of a most peculiar character. It did not matter to them whether their customers paid cash of not, all they wanted was cash in January of each year of notes - and they got mostly notes. These notes the proprietors traded for horses and for upwards of fifteen years Fairchilds collected each spring fifty to sixty head of horses and actually drove them all the way to Connecticut, where he sold them. Then he stopped off at New York on his way back, bought his goods for the following year and came on home. Fairchilds was "Doc" to everybody and was one of those jovial fellows who make life worth living. His partner, Franklin, was also of a jovial disposition and was reputed to he able to laugh the "loudest and the longest and the most completely of any man who ever lived in the county." He was "Uncle Sam" to the whole community.


There is usually in each community, and especially in the community the size of Woodstock, one man who may be said to be responsible for its prosperity during a long period of years. Such a man in Woodstock was Erastus Martin. Born in Randolph, Vermont, in 1811, he learned the blacksmith trade in New York City when a young man and drifted West, eventually finding himself in Mexico, where he accumulated a goodly sized fortune in a short time. Martin came to Woodstock about 1840, being drawn thither by the fact that many of his neighbors in Vermont had located there. He continued to make Woodstock his home until his death in 1891, and in the course of more than half a century in this community it is not too much to say that for many years of the time he was the most influential factor in its industrial life. He was a natural financier, and anything to which he turned his hand proved successful. At one time or another he actually owned every lot in Woodstock and North Lewisburg, securing them in the course of his many business transactions. He engaged in farming, blacksmithing, real estate business, dealt in imported Norman horses and French sheep, and for many years engaged extensively in the slaughtering business. He slaughtered thousands of hogs and sheep annually and hauled his pork and mutton overland to Toledo. He was responsible, more than any other man, for the Pennsylvania railroad going through Woodstock rather than through Mechanicsburg. In short, he was the moving spirit in Woodstock as long as he was active in business affairs.


In the decade before the Civil War, the village boasted of two general stores, a grocery store, drug store, wagon shop and two blacksmith shops. Smith & Sprague were the proprietors of the general store which stood on the southeast corner of the square, while a man by the name of Harback occupied the southwest corner with his store. Edward Clark was on the northeast corner with a grocery and T. Burnham had his drug store on the northwest corner. The blacksmith shops were owned by Elder Marsh and James Conner, while the wagon shop was located over the blacksmith shop of Elder Marsh, and was run by Charles Marsh and N. P. Hewitt. Joseph Chamberlin operated the village hotel in the brick building built by a man by the name of Ganter.

The Civil War came on apace and the business industries of the town suffered as a result. The part Woodstock and Rush township took in the Civil War is told in the military chapter, and need not be treated here in detail. Woodstock claimed to have furnished more men for service, according to its population, than any other village or city in the state. On the day the first call was made, eight young men enlisted; fifteen answered the second call; five went at the next; and others from time to time until the close of the war. The complete summary of Woodstock's service will be seen in the chapter above mentioned. At the opening of the war the village had a fine brass band, most of its members being married, and when the war opened nine members at once enlisted. More than fifty soldiers are buried in the local cemetery.

Upon the breaking out of the Spanish-American War the following young men enlisted from Woodstock: W. C. Gifford, Charles Bailey, Daniel Poling, Charles and Arthur Cushman, Guy Clark, John Overfield, Guy Weatherhead, Perry Sessions, David Hanley and Simeon Martin. Two other young men, William Griswold and Thomas Linehan, both of whom were former residents of Woodstock, served in the war and reached the front. The nine young men from Woodstock got no farther than Florida before they were called back. The present European War finds one young man at the front in June, 1917. Vivian Crawford, who is with an ambulance corps.

[Forward to Part 2 of Woodstock, Ohio history.]

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