Coyahoga County, OH and it's Townships

From: A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
Publishers: The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924


This title could with equal accuracy be reversed to read: The Townships and Their County. This system of local government ordained that the county and the townships should be one in interest, in operation, and in reality. The townships were the woof and the county the warp of that complete system of local government, projected over a vast territory in advance of its actual occupation by future inhabitants. It is a standing tribute to the wisdom of the men, such men, as those who wrote the Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, The Constitution of the United States, The Ordinance of 1787, and the Constitution of Ohio. It is a system of local government unsurpassed in the practical operation of the building up of a new country, and its development, under all the forms of law and maintenance of order.

In New England, the township, usually called the town, had more authority, amounting nearly to independent local self government. By the form of local government adopted in Ohio and throughout the Northwest Territory, as formed into sovereign states; the union between county and townships was very close and the authority equitably divided.

The township, in its original capacity, was invested with political and administrative powers for regulating its Down minor local affairs such as laying out and repairing roads, maintaining schools, providing for the poor, etc. Being invested with corporate powers, it can make contracts and enter into agreements that are binding in law. The county, being in effect an organization of the townships for political and administrative purposes, is a political unit next below the state.

Thus in New England the township is the political unit. In the states of the South the county is the political unit. In the Middle and Western states we have the mixed organization of county and township.

We have said that the township in its original capacity had certain powers. As the population increased and cities and villages were formed and expanded, taking from the territory of the township, and, finally, taking all of its territory, the township remained but stripped of most of its authority. Such could be called judicial townships. The subdivisions of counties in California are called judicial townships.

For many years after the township of Cleveland had been swallowed up by the great city, the township remained. Its boundaries were as before but it ceased to function except as a judicial township. Up to the time of the establishing of the Municipal Court, January 1, 1912, justices of the peace were regularly elected and commissioned as justices of Cleveland Township, and were invested with the same jurisdiction as to territory and authority as justices in other townships, operating as originally organized.

By the establishment of this court, the necessity for the justice courts in the Township of Cleveland was taken away, as the Legislature endowed this court with all the jurisdiction of the justice courts in connection with more extended powers. By this enactment, the justice courts were abolished and the Township of Cleveland ceased to exist.

Thus, in the larger development of this county, the advent of automobiles, suburban electric lines, bus lines, and before all, the steam lines, with their enormous transportation facilities, coupled with the marvelous advance in farm machinery, the establishment of cities and villages within the county, their rapid growth, the township, that center of pioneer life and conservator of its peace, is passing.

The original townships of Cuyahoga County were: Bedford, Brecksville, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Dover, Euclid, Independence, Mayfield, Middleburgh, Newburgh, Olmsted, Parma, Rockport, Royalton, Solon, Strongsville, Warrensville, and Orange. East Cleveland and Chagrin Falls were soon added.

From time to time others have been formed, which will be referred to later.

When Cuyahoga County was organized with these original townships, it contained no villages and no cities. The total population numbered 1,495 white souls, Indians not counted. The original survey was made as follows: the surveyors laid out upon the ground the forty first parallel of latitude as a base line, beginning at the Pennsylvania line and extending westward 120 miles. From this line they ran lines of longitude, five miles apart, due north to Lake Erie. These were crossed by east and west lines, five miles apart, thus making the townships five miles square, except for the irregular shore of the lake.

The townships were numbered as ranges, counting from the Pennsylvania line as a meridian, westward, to the number of twenty four, making 120 miles. From the base line they were numbered, northward, to the shore of Lake Erie.

Cleveland, before it had a name as a township, was known as No. 7, in the Twelfth Range. It is twelve townships west of the Pennsylvania line and seven townships north of the forty first parallel of latitude.

The record of the survey of the Reserve for the Connecticut Land Company, which included this region, is interesting in detail. The variation of the compass, as will be observed by reference to the surveyor's notes, was a constant element of trouble. John Milton Holley's record, he being one of the surveyors under Moses Cleveland, can be taken as an example: Aug. 2, 1796, took variation, cloudy, observation bad, my eyes sore, variation two degrees twenty three seconds.

This variation of the compass is noted in many daily reports. The hardships endured by these men is shadowed in their reports as well. The shortage of food, at times, was noted and many incidents calculated to break the spirits of men less inured to the strenuous life. But they completed the work and the townships were "erected" and Cuyahoga County, with the capital of New Connecticut surveyed at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, came into being.

The settlers bought their land before moving into the wilderness. Moses Cleveland was commissioned by the land company to make sales but was instructed to sell only to actual settlers. They came by families and groups of families to their farms in the woods. Each township was organized in due time. The township became a little world in itself. It was a "close" corporation, in the sense that the people were closely allied. Hospitality was unbounded, but thrift was supreme. In their unwritten law, late rising was a misdemeanor and laziness a crime.

The clearing of the land began, with its attendant dangers from wild beasts and hostile Indians. The flintlock musket was always at hand. The ax rang clear from early morn till night. The trees cut for the log house made a little clearing for the garden, which gradually enlarged to more pretentious fields. At first grain was ground for the family use in handmills, wooden dishes were used at the table, and gourd dippers at the spring. Benches were used instead of chairs, and the tallow dip for light.

As the acreage of cleared land increased and more crops were grown, the streams were harnessed, and the overshot wheel was utilized to grind the grain and provide bread for the cabin home. Sometimes these mills were far distant, and a trip to mill would mean a day or more over primal roads, through the unbroken forest. Work, work, was the motto for father, mother, boys and girls.

One by one new families came, and more strong arms were added to those already clearing the forest and providing for the home. Children were born, and they must be provided for. Schools were needed and religious training. The school and church are handmaidens of civilization, and this was a new civilization. Disputes and differences naturally arose, among the settlers, and the necessity for the protection and adjudication of the law. This was provided for in the organization of the county and township, with their legally constituted officers.

The blacksmith shop, the shoe shop, the harness shop, and the wagon shop, were among the first public industries to appear, and were usually located at the Center. The gristmill, and later, the sawmill and the tannery, with its accompanying barkmill, to grind the bark for tanning, sought locations where water power was available. These were some of the public industries. In the home, the card, the spinning wheel, the swift and reel, the churn and cheesepress, were employed. The store and postoffice was a gathering place for young and old, a news exchange, the blacksmith shop a political forum.

Looking back to those pioneer days (it has been 113 years since the county was organized), looking back from this age of marvelous advancement in material things, we are liable to think only of the hardships of the pioneers. They were happy in their labors. They had a common task to perform, and they joined hands with a will. They nursed each other in sickness, all lent a hand at raisings, and were proud of their achievements.

Most prominent as we review their history appears the circle about the hearthstone, the home life, the cheer, the families so long unbroken. Thrift was the watchword and hospitality and neighborly fraternity its greatest glory. Thrift was mingled with the pleasures of the young.

There was the husking bee, so full of lively interest, when the finding of the red ear brought a pleasing penalty, paid by the lips of the finder, amid the smiles and happy faces of the rest. This was a mingling of work and pleasure, a novel way to dignify and enthrone labor. In like manner the paring bee, that left the completed labor of many hands as the evening "favor," when the paring deftly thrown to form the initials of a name, brought blushes and kisses at the same time. This gave countenance to labor as the handmaiden of Cupid and the accompaniment of social life.

I doubt if we, today, who linger over wastefully expensive banquets, enjoy so much real pleasure as came with the diversions of those early days of generous thrift.

Certain philosophers of our day teach discontent to those who labor as an essential element of progress. Our fathers, accepting the decree that "by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread," ate theirs in full compliance with the mandate and in content, mingled their joys and pleasures with the burden of labor.

With all the advantages that we enjoy, having at hand these greater opportunities, accumulated from the mighty progress of more than a century, it may still be to our advantage to read the history of the past, and emulate the virtues of those who built the first fires of this civilization, wrought so industriously, and left us so clean a heritage.

James A. Garfield had this to say: "The pioneers were a people who had been trained in the principles and practice of civil order, and these were transplanted to their new home. Those who first broke ground here, accomplished a work unlike that which fell to the lot of any succeeding generation. The hardships they endured, the life they led, the peculiar qualities they needed in their undertaking, and the traits of character developed by their work, stand alone in our history."

So far as the available records will permit, a history of each township, as a component part of Cuyahoga County and its people, will follow in successive chapters.

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