History of Wellsville, Columbiana County, OH
By Frank L. Wells

From: History of Columbiana County, Ohio
By: Harold B. Barth
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1926


The first Ohio soil washed by the Ohio River is that of Columbiana County. From Columbiana on the east to Hamilton County on the west, along the entire southern border of the state, the Ohio River unfolds a panorma of beauty, which led the admiring Indians to name it the Beautiful River, in the Indian language, the "Ohio."

Located on its northerly bank, in the heart of the finest scenery of the "Beautiful River," Wellsville is favored for situation. At this point nature constructed a large level tract of land nearly all of which is safely above the highest river floods. From the east the river approaches the location with a curve of great beauty, and after flowing past the site in a comparatively straight, deep channel, leaves the place with another charming curve. At the western side of the city a group of islands in the river enhances the beauty of the scene.
On both the Ohio and West Virginia sides of the river, splendid wooded hills surround the place contributing both beauty and shelter to the site. The Ohio hills abound in springs and brooks affording Wellsville an abundant supply of pure, soft water with an operating cost that is practically nil and giving Wellsville the distinction of having the only "Gravity System" of water supply in the State of Ohio.

In the year 1770, George Washington made a canoe trip down the Ohio River in company with his personal friend, Colonel Crawford, for the purpose of selecting lands for purchase. On October 21st his Journal contains this entry:

"At present the unsettled state of the country renders any purchase dangerous." On October 22nd he traveled from the mouth of Little Beaver Creek to Big Yellow Creek and referring to the present site of Wellsville entered in his Journal:

"There is another pretty large body of very good land two or three miles above Yellow Creek."

Shortly previous to 1788 the government caused a survey of this part of the Ohio to be made by surveyor, Robert Johnson, and at a sale in New York City of Ohio lands in the year 1788, Johnson bought thirty townships at the rate of one hundred acres of land for $6. In 1795 James Clark of Washington County, Pennsylvania, bought from Johnson three hundred and four acres, the site of Wellsville at $6 per acre. In 1796 Clark sold his holdings to his son in law, William Wells, who moved from Pennsylvania with his family in the year 1797 and became the founder of Wellsville Mr. Wells cultivated the land here with his eldest son as an armed guard for protection from the Indians and wild beasts, and at night the family took shelter in the Government Block House on the. Virginia side of the river located where the Arbuckles, of coffee fame, years after, erected a mansion which still stands.

The site of Wellsville proved to be attractive and a settlement soon developed. In 1805 the township of Yellow Creek was organized in which year the total tax levy for the township amounted to $57.60. The territory originally set off to the township embraced besides the tract now within the township limits, a row of sections on the west which in 1832 were apportioned to Jefferson County. Among the early settlers of the township there was a large percentage of Scotch people, and the district immediately north of Wellsville became known as the Scotch Settlement.

In the year 1800 the present First Methodist Episcopal Church was organized by Rev. John Callahan in the house of William Wells. This is supposed to be the first Methodist Episcopal Church organized in the State of Ohio. In the same year the Rev. George Scott, a Presbyterian minister, preached in the house of George Wilhelm on the Virginia side of the river opposite Wellsville, and at a later date Rev. Scott and a Rev. Thomas E. Hughes, and other supply preachers, held Presbyterian services in the woods and tents at Wellsville during the summer season, and in the winter held services in the school house. On July 4, 1833, William Wells donated to the Methodists a lot on Main Street, and they erected an edifice, being the same site where their present church stands. In the same year the First Presbyterian Society built a brick house of worship on the river bank just below what is now Ninth Street, which they occupied until they built a new brick church in 1852 on the site of their present church building.

The interest in churches from these early beginnings has continued and today there are fourteen church congregations in Wellsville, all owning their own buildings, valued, churches and parsonages, at $425,000 with a membership of approximately 4,500.

In 1814 a turnpike road was built to Lisbon and in 1816 a postoffice was established at Wellsville with John J. Feehan as postmaster.

In 1823 the first plat of lots in Wellsville was recorded in Lisbon and on February 6, 1833, the Village of Wellsville was duly incorporated

The shortest line from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River was found to be from Cleveland on Lake Erie to Wellsville on the river. This fact, with the additional circumstances that at this point there was an exceptionally good river harbor and landing, and that Wellsville was geographically midway between the important points of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania and Wheeling in Virginia, made Wellsville a terminal for a daily stage coach line from Cleveland, and also one from Fairport on Lake Erie. Two packets named "New Lisbon" and "Wellsville" were operated on the river from Wellsville to Pittsburg. A stage line was operated from Ashtabula on the Lake to Wheeling, Virginia, via Wellsville and Steubenville.

Wellsville in the forties was a busy, bustling, shipping point controlling the river business of fifteen Ohio counties, including the entire Western Reserve; and frequently hundreds of loaded wagons would be seen here waiting their turn to discharge freight for the river and to reload with merchandise for the interior. This shipping activity continued from 1832 until 1852, when with the advent of the railroad important changes were wrought.

In 1844 Wellsville citizens initiated plans for the building of a railroad from Wellsville on the river to Fairport on the lake. Cleveland capital became interested and the terminal points were made Cleveland and Wellsville. The Cleveland and Pittsburg Railroad was built largely by Wellsvile citizens. The road was competed to Cleveland in 1852 and on St. Valentine's Day of that year the first steam locomotive ever in Wellsville arrived with a train of flat cars. A great celebration was staged and a number of citizens met the train at Yellow Creek and rode in on the flat cars. The railroad tract in that time ran through the middle of the town instead of on the river front as it now is. The station then was at the corner of Broadway and Sixth streets designated on the plat of the town ash Depot Lot, being the property now known as the Holland Home. In those days the locomotives were named instead of numbered and the engine which drew the first train was named "Summit." As a part of the program for the occasion, William Wells, the founder of the town, drove the last spike at the Wellsville end of the line, signifying the completion of the road. The railroad service from Wellsville to Pittsburg was inaugurated in 1856.

The railroad completely changed the character of Wellsville's business, and soon eliminated the stage coach and the teaming trade. But Wellsville was not the loser, and the forward looking Wellsville citizens of 1844 have been fully vindicated in their judgment in securing the railroad. Extensive railroad shops were at once erected hree and the railroad interests have been continually enlarged until today the Pennsylvania Railroad Company employs at this point nine hundred men, having here property on the tax duplicate at approximately a million of dollars and paying one eighth of all the taxes paid in Wellsville. Their wage payroll here amounts to one and a half million dollars annually.

The first potting industry in the Ohio Valley was begun in Wellsville in 1826 by Joseph Wells (the son of the founder of the town) who made red and stone ware in a shop on Broadway and continued the business for thirty years.

In 1836 the firm of Bottenberg and Geisse started a foundry which was the beginning of the industry now known as The Stevenson Company. In the beginning six men were employed and in time P. F. Geisse acquired the full ownership. The plant was known as the Fulton Foundry, and built boats and steamboat machinery for the river trade. In 1870 the plant was sold out to Samuel and Thomas B. Stevenson, and in a short time they were joined by Alexander Denham; afterward the full control passed to Samuel Stevenson, who organized The Stevenson Company, engaged chiefly in the manufacture of brick making machinery, and the concern is one of our best industries, having customers all over the United States and Canada, with orders at times so far away as China.

In 1874, Wellsville citizens, by liberal contributions to the capital, induced a company of Pittsburg mechanics to organize The American Tin Plate Company and erect a plant in Wellsville where the first tin plate in the United States was produced. In less than a year the concern failed because of a different construction being put upon the protective tariff law than that which was understood when the plant was erected, and the plant which cost $80,000 was sold in 1877 at sheriff's sale for $10,000 and started only to fail again. After a long time shut down, the plant was acquired by the Woods of Pittsburg, under whose management and that of their successors, the United States Steel Corporation, manufacturing high grade sheet steel and employing eight hundred and fifty men with an annual payroll of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, has become probably our best industry.

Among other industries now operating in Wellsville are four large white ware potteries, two brick making plants, a paint works, an ice plant, a boiler works, a stilt works, and a plant for the manufacture of hot water heaters. Reports from eleven of our industries show that those operating have 2,440 employes to whom they pay annually wages amounting to $3,228,000. In addition to those reporting to the writer there are a number of small industries, which with careful estimates as to miscellaneous employment shows an aggregate of 3,000 wage earners in Wellsville receiving annually wages approximately $4,000,000.

From the earliest days Wellsville has afforded its children and young people the best educational facilities. Long before the days of high schools Wellsville supplemented the best available grade schools with academies, at least three of which flourished at different periods. In the latter forties and the early fifties Rev. Jonathan Hamnett, a Methodist minister, conducted an academy located near the present site of the Third Street Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Rev. Hamnett afterwards became a member of the faculty and vice president of Allegheny College at Meadville, Pennsylvania. Another academy was conducted by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. W. H. Lafferty. This academy was located in what is now the C. W. Arnold residence on Riverside Avenue, the building in those days having three stories. Another academy was located in a three story building constructed for the purpose on Main Street where Dr. J. M. King's residence is now located, and was headed by Rev. Campbell, a United Presbyterian minister.

The older residents of Wellsville aver that these educators were all gifted men and each of them left an indelible impression upon the life of the community. In the course of time these academies were superceded by our most excellent high school. Today the Wellsville schools employ fifty four teachers and have four substantial modern grade buildings with a new and finely equipped high school building. In the annals of the school history of Wellsville the name of Prof. James L. MacDonald looms large. Prof. MacDonald was superintendent of the schools here for thirty nine years and taught three generations of our citizens. It is related that prior to the election of Prof. MacDonald to be superintendent of the schools here, one George W. Luckey, was an applicant for the position, but was rejected by our board as not up to the standard required. Prof. Luckey was afterwards employed as superintendent of the Pittsburg schools, where he served for many years.

Any record of Wellsville events should make mention of certain historical incidents. For instance the massacre of a company of Indians by white men, which occurred in this vicinity near the mouth of Big Yellow Creek, and which brought on long years of Indian warfare led by the Indian Chief, Logan, whose famous oration touching this brutal massacre was printed in McGuffy's Reader and declaimed by every school boy of the former generation.

In 1782 the famous Indian fighter, Adam Poe, had his memorable contest opposite the mouth of Little Yellow Creek.

In 1844 a crack militia company known as the Wellsville Light Artillery was organized by Capt. Henry Cope. The company numbered fifty one men, carried a twelve pound gun, and paraded in a showy uniform consisting of red coat, white pants, and a stiff hat with a brilliant plume. They are said to have made a very imposing appearance when on parade, and during the company's eight years existence their red coats and white pants glistened at all general musters, 4th of July celebrations, and other occasions. The company received orders to take the field in the Mexican War and arrangements were made for a departure to Mexico but just then peace was declared and the company lost a chance to win real glory.

Judge Joshua A. Riddle at one time commanded a cavalry company attached to the state militia with headquarters at Wellsville.

In 1858 Captain Henry Cope organized the Wellsville Guards with Asa H. Battin as first lieutenant, and upon the breaking out of the War of the Rebelion in 1861 the entire company enlisted in the service in Company K, 3rd Ohio Volunteers. With Asa H. Battin as Captain and James M Imbrie as First Lieutenant, afterwards promoted to captain. This company saw hard service with many casualties and part of their number were held as prisoners in Libby Prison. Company F of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was recruited at Wellsville with James W. Reilly as colonel of the regiment and J. F. Riddle as captain of the Wellsville Company. Colonel Reily was promoted to the position of brigadier general and Captain Riddle became major of the regiment. This Wellsville company suffered twenty two casualties in the service.

In the early days of the Civil War word reached Wellsville that the Confederates had managed to purchase a boat load of war supplies from Pittsburg and that they were being brought down the Ohio River. Under the leadership of William G. Wells, the youthful mayor of Wellsville, a cannon was planted on the river bank between Third and Fourth streets, and when the boat came within range it was ordered to put to shore. The order was complied with and the goods captured and turned over to the Federal authorities.

In July of 1863, the farthest north of the War of the Rebellion reached the Crubaugh farm eight miles north of Wellsville. There the Rebel raider, General John H. Morgan, was captured and brought to Wellsville and held as a prisoner here until taken to the penitentiary at Columbus. While here he was under guard in the Whitacre Hotel, where The Peoples National Bank now stands.

In the last days of February, 1861, when President Lincoln made his memorable trip from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to the capitol at Washington, to be inaugurated president, he passed through Wellsville and made a speech here from the rear platform of his train. On this occasion a very interesting Lincolnian incident occurred. While Lincoln was speaking a tipsy Irishman named Johnnie Brice made a very rude interruption and shouted out, "I didn't vote for you, I voted for a dom sight better man." Most men in Lincoln's position would have resented the insult and the meeting would have been irrevocably ruined, but not so with Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln said, "I want to meet that man, bring him to me." The crowd seized the recalcitrant Brice and carried him to Mr. Lincoln, who reached down and took him by the hand saying:

"My friend, you didn't vote for me but I have been elected and I am your president. I am going down to Washington to tackle a very hard job and need your help. Will you help me?"

Quick as a flash the Irishman made reply, "Sure I will Mr. Lincoln, sure I will."

Lincoln's tact had won a friend, saved the situation, and converted a very unseemly incident into an occasion which delighted every one present.

When America entered the World War the government draft board headquarters for Columbiana County were located at Wellsville with D. S. Brookman as chairman of the board and Wellsville was made the chief entraining point for this county.

One of the most exciting days in the history of Wellsville was in the presidential campaign of 1912 when William Howard Taft, President of the United States, and Ex President Theodore Roosevelt, both made speeches here, and on the same day Ringling Brothers showed, and the tradition is that the circus drew the largest crowd.

The saddest day in the chronicles of Wellsville was on July 4, 1882, when the steamboat Sciota sank in the Ohio River with fifty two Wellsville people aboard and twenty eight were drowned.

The richest man that Wellsville ever produced was William Chapman Ralston. His father was Robert Ralston, a steamboat builder at Wellsville. "Chap Ralston" went to California in the gold days and became a many times millionaire, in fact, the wealthiest man of his day and engaged in banking and many other enterprises in and about San Francisco. His tragic end was one of the sensations of the day.

The famous actor, Burr McIntosh, was born in Wellsville and spent his early boyhood days here. He was a son of William S. McIntosh, a Wellsville banker.

The first newspaper published in Wellsville was the Wellsville Commercial Advertiser, issued in October, 1835, by Lewis Caton who came here from Maryland. The name of the paper was changed to The American Patriot in 1841 and in 1842 William L. Clark, familiarly known as "Uncle Billy," who had come from Maryland with Mr. Caton, acquired the ownership of the paper and changed its name to the Wellsville Patriot. When the Civil War came on Clark, who was a strong Democrat, took a violent stand against President Lincoln and his conduct of the war, and while the war was in progress William G. Foster came to Wellsville from Steubenville and started the Wellsville Union with William G. Wells as its first editor. The new paper actively supported Lincoln and the Union cause and in 1866 Clark's paper was discontinued. The Wellsville Union has survived and is now being published by C. J. Berg.

Wellsville people have always taken an active interest in literary matters. For many years the Redpath Chautauqua Bureau have declared that Wellsville is one of their best cities. More than twenty eight years ago a number of Wellsville ladies, effected a literary organization known as the Twentieth Century Club. This organization became the first Federated Woman's Club in the Ohio Valley. In addition to the Twentieth Century Club, the ladies of this city have a Bible Club, a Delphian Club, and numerous other social and literary organizations. Wellsville maintains a Carnegie Library, two public play grounds for children, two gymnasiums, two emergency hospitals, a civic music association, six pipe organs, a cornet band, and several orchestras. There is here a very live and successful Kiwanis Club, and the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, and Knights of Columbus own their own homes worth in the aggregate more than $100,000.

Wellsville has twelve miles of street paving, electric light, natural gas, and high tension electric power for its factories.

In addition to river transportation eleven passenger trains of The Pennsylvania System arrive and depart from two stations in Wellsville daily, and every hour interurban trolley cars run easterly to Beaver, Pennsylvania and Westerly to Steubenville, and a fifteen minute local street car service connects Wellsville and East Liverpool.

In 1869 William Blakely and William G. Wells started The Wellsville Building Company for the purpose of encouraging home ownership among the people of the town. From that day to this there have continuously been strong and successful organizations here affording opportunity to wage earners of the place to acquire their own homes, with the result that a very heavy percentage of the people of Wellsville live in their own homes. This fact has unquestionably given Wellsville a very desirable class of citizens, and in part explains why the last Federal census shows that in the preceding decade Wellsville's percentage of increase in population exceeds that of East Liverpool, Salem, Lisbon, Columbiana, Salineville or Leetonia, other cities and villages in Columbiana County.


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