History of Oxford Township, Erie County, OH

From: The Centennial History of Erie County, Ohio
By: H. L. Peeke
President of the Firelands Historical Society
Sandusky, Ohio 1925


Oxford Township

Oxford is township 5, in range 25, and is bounded on the north by Perkins, on the south by Ridgefield, east by Milan, and west by Groton. Its general aspect is not unlike those adjoining, being level, and diversified by three streams of water, the largest of which is the Huron River. This flows through the southeast corner of the township from the west, and passes through the corner of it on its way to the lake. Pipe Creek and Crab Apple Creek are the only streams besides the Huron in this township, and the latter empties into it.

The township was first colonized in the month of February, 1810, by six families from Conneaut, Erie County, Pennsylvania. These early settlers were: Jonathan Sprague, an old man who had served in the army of the Revolution as lieutenant. He built a cabin on the east bank of Pipe Creek, a quarter of a mile from Bloomingville. His son's family and three families of Dunhams settled between him and the present Bloomingville, and Linas Ensign settled a mile southwest of Bloomingville, on the farm afterward occupied by John Paxton. In the month of July of the same year Thomas James and James Forsyth moved into the township. During that fall three others, Nathan Standish and Wood, came, and were followed the next year by Thomas Hamilton, Doctor Hastings, John Dillingham, and Samuel McGill.

The survey of the township was made by Jabez Wright and Almon Ruggles, assisted by Benjamin Drake as chain bearer, in 1810, and during that year many people moved in; but the following year the entire township was affected by the panic that followed Hull's surrender, and many of the pioneers fled to older settlements for safety. The greater part of those who fled went to Mansfield, conveying their household goods and families on horseback and in wagons. Those who remained behind proceeded at once to build a blockhouse in Bloomingville, and later a second one was built near it and both enclosed by a stockade. After this, until the close of the war there were few additions to the settlement in Oxford. The Register of July 2, 1879, contains reminiscences by W. D. Gurley stating his arrival on September, 1811, at a small log cabin where Bloomingville now stands. It was then an almost unbroken forest. The next Sunday he heard his father preach the first sermon on the firelands in the little log schoolhouse, and saw him form a little class of eight or ten members. Early in the spring his father built the house a half mile east of Bloomingville and resided there till Hull surrendered to the English in 1812. He then left and did not return till 1818 when he settled in Perkins.

The following extracts are from the pen of F. D. Drake, whose father was prominently identified with the new country:

"On the 16th of April, 1815, my father and his family, consisting of mother and four boys, left Erie, Pa., for our future home in Oxford township, where we arrived the 4th of May, having performed the journey of one hundred and sixty miles in nineteen days. My father had provided himself with a span of fine horses, a light wagon covered with linen stretcher over hoops. All heavy articles were left to be forwarded by water to the mouth of the Huron. The road was so bad that, with the addition of a yoke of oxen which my father purchased in Cleveland to hitch ahead of the horses in bad places, we were unable to travel more than six or eight or ten miles a day."

He then describes the process of making new roads, cutting underbrush, laying a corduroy through marshy places, and at length tells of his arrival at their journey's end:

"We stayed at Jabez Wright's, who lived at that time on the west side of Huron River, about a mile from its mouth. He was surveyor and land agent. He was afterwards an associate judge of Huron county. His house was crowded that night with settlers on business connected with a sale of lands. Among the number was Maj. Joseph Strong, the first permanent settler of Lyme township. The major and my father had been neighbors in New York State, and as every vestige of a road had disappeared, he volunteered to guide us to his house. We started early next morning, the major ahead on horseback as advanced picket, the team following; and the three boys, driving the oxen bringing up the rear."

He then continues to give us the details of that eventful journey, of his impressions of the broad prairies covered with tall grass of the brightest green, and their first trials as pioneers. There was little or no money in circulation in those days. A man might raise large amounts of grain, and own large numbers of cattle, and still not be able to raise money to pay his taxes. To borrow a dollar or even 50 cents was almost an impossibility, and whoever had it was looked upon as a rich man.

Early troubles came to the settlers in many forms, and perhaps none was more distressing than the milk sickness that affected the cattle. It came simultaneously with the attempt to have a bank, and the cause of it was a mystery. There are still places in our country where this is common, and the United States Government offered a generous reward of many thousand dollars to whoever should discover the secret cause of its prevalence. In Oxford Township they believed it was the result of the animals drinking from springs of mineral water, but this was disproved by the fact that a flock of sheep belonging to Thomas James, of Bloomingville, were pastured in a field where there was no stream and yet a number of the flock were affected by it. Its effects on animals was known as "trembles," and it was quite customary to see a fat calf, after sucking, walk a short distance, then begin to tremble, and in a little while fall down and die. The superstitious believed in witchcraft. Many people died from this poison, and their remains are buried at the forks of the roads a short distance east of Bloomingville, with no monument to tell the story of their lives in the new country to which they had come full of hope. We understand that the milk sickness is now believed to be caused by the cattle eating a certain weed.

There were many other forms of sickness prevalent, which together with the absence of physicians, caused more suffering among the pioneers than all the other hardships. During the months of August and September, in every year, bilious and intermittent fever, and ague, prevailed to a great extent. The change of climate, water and mode of living, created a general predisposition to disease, and all were affected, some years more than others, so much so that long afterwards, one year in particular was referred to as the sickly season. Whole families would be prostrated at the same time, and not one in the house be able to give another a glass of water.

A sense of mutual dependence, their solitary mode of life, and perhaps other causes, produced a friendship and hearty good will for each other among the early settlers that never exists in the older and more densely populated settlements. The latch string was always out, and the traveler was received with the most cordial welcome, and partook of the best the cabin afforded, generally pretty coarse fare, "without money and without price." The raising of a building collected most of the men from a wide circuit; and if a settler, from sickness or other cause, was unable to plow, plant or harvest in season his neighbors would collect and do his work for him; those living six or eight miles apart even were considered as neighbors. In all their gatherings, and they were frequent, the most perfect equality and good will prevailed.

Among the most prominent evils and hardships incident to the settlement of the Firelands was that of procuring bread, even of the coarsest kind. Even as late as 1820 there were not mills sufficient to supply the wants of a rapidly increasing population. Ebenezer Merry had erected a mill at Milan, Maj. Frederick Faley one at Cold Creek, near the present Village of Venice, and there was one near the head of the creek, and a man named Powers had built one on Huron River, in Greenfield Township. These were all small affairs, with one run of stone. The machinery and dams were rude, ill constructed, and out of order a great portion of the time. The roads almost impassable for wagons, and even dangerous for a single horse with a bag of grain and a rider on his back.

Mr. Drake says: "I was of that age when not large enough to do a man's work on the farm, but still large enough to go to mill, and it was a duty I was generally detailed to perform. The following expedition to Powers' Mill will show how it was done. The mill stood in the woods and resembled an old fashioned tan house. The basement, containing the machinery, was uninclosed, the upper story boarded up barn fashion, and constructed inside with more regard for convenience than beauty. The presiding genius of the establishment was constructed on the same principles - one leg being much shorter than its mate. He was old and cross. Millers were then as absolute as the Autocrat of all the Russias.' There was no appeal from their decisions, and as it was a matter of bread, if not butter, people were willing to submit to a great deal to secure so desirable a consummation. The state of the roads and the distance most persons came made it necessary to spend one night at the mill. The night I was there I found some ten or twelve others, and we all camped down wherever a vacancy could be found among the bags. The regular clicking of the hopper, the surging, gushing sound of the water, as it escaped from the mill wheel, the noise of people talking and traveling around hunting for bags, and the singing of mosquitos, produced a concert of discordant sounds that precluded the possibility of sleep. Still there was no complaining; it was considered as a necessary evil. The next night when I lay down at home on a comfortable bed, I could have said with honest Sancho Panza: 'Blessed is the man who invented sleep.' "

Bloomingville

Is situated in the northwest corner of the township and about one half of a mile east of Pipe Creek and on the line of an old Indian trail, and seems to have been a favorite camping ground long previous to the settlement of the country, for Indians and traders, in their journeyings between the mouth of Huron River and Lower Sandusky, the ground being high and dry and an abundance of wood, water and fine feed for their horses in the immediate vicinity. The banks of the creek at the crossing of the trail is about ten feet high, and the action of the horse's feet in passing up and down the banks had formed a ditch on each side, a number of feet deep. Although there had been quite a village there since 1811, it had not been laid out in lots nor had the honor of a name until 1817. These were done by Abiather Shirley and Abner Young. It was here that the first postoffice was established in 1810, with Aaron Bigsby as postmaster. The first store was opened the year following by Nathan Wood. The first hotel was started in 1812 by Abiather Shirley.

The first store kept there was by Nathan Wood, in 1811, and afterwards successively by Peter Vanness, Faley & Johnson, and in 1818 Samuel B. Caldwell, and a young man by the name of Owens brought on a large stock of goods. Owens soon became dissatisfied with the country and retired from the firm and returned to the East, and Charles F. Drake became associated with Caldwell, and the business was afterwards carried on in the name of Caldwell & Drake. The residence of the widow, Mrs. Simeon B. Carpenter, they rebuilt and occupied as a store.

The first schoolhouse in the township was erected in 1810, about half way between Pipe Creek and Joseph Brownell's tavern, in Bloomingville, in which school was kept in the winter of 1811 by Joseph Alby. The building was still standing in 1815, and for a literary institution, I must say, it looked decidedly hard.

The first justice of the peace was Israel Harrington. He was elected in 1811, and lived west of Pipe Creek, in what is now within the limits of Groton Township.

A Bank-Almost

A person residing on the Firelands at this day, when all kinds of produce has a cash value and can be converted into money at a fair price, can form no idea of the vexations and inconveniences that were suffered by the early settlers of this country for the want of some kind of a circulating medium. Previous to the opening of the Erie Canal, and the establishment of commercial relations through that channel with the eastern cities, there was no cash market for any kind of produce. A bushel of corn would not buy a yard of muslin coarse enough to sift corn meal through. A man might own a hundred head of cattle, and an unlimited number of hogs and territory large enough for a German principality, and not be able to raise money enough to pay his taxes without great effort. I recollect the circumstance of a number of gentlemen stopping at my father's on their way to Norwalk to attend court, and among the number was a large land owner who was reported rich, and was so. I heard the individual referred to ask one of his companions for the loan of 50 cents, stating he was not able to raise that amount before leaving home. The person applied to, happening to be flush and liberal, told him he should have the 50 cents or even $1 if he needed so much.

I think it must have been in 1817 that Charles Lindsay removed from Dayton to near the head of Cold Creek. He had been an official in a wildcat institution that was issuing "promises to pay" that were never redeemed, under the name of the "Dayton Manufacturing Company." The word "manufacturing" was undoubtedly used for the same reason that Captain Cuttle always read a large book because it looked respectable.

Lindsay suggested to some of the most influential inhabitants the great benefits that would result to the country by establishing a bank at Bloomingville, at that time a flourishing village. The move was decided a popular one; it was the very thing the people wanted. The idea that any capital was needed I don't believe was ever thought of. A public meeting was immediately called, which met at the mouth of the Huron, and was attended by Wright, Shirley, Young, Lindsay and in fact by most of the inhabitants, Mr. Drake included. It was unanimously resolved by the meeting that a bank should be established at Bloomingville and put in running order in the shortest possible time, with the understanding that Abner Young should be president and Charles Lindsay, who was supposed to have large experience and skill in financial matters, was to officiate as cashier. The necessary amount was subscribed on the spot to meet the incidental expenses of establishing the institution. Lindsay was employed to proceed forthwith to Cincinnati to get the engraving done and the bills struck off, and likewise to attend the next session of the Legislature to procure a charter. It was said Lindsay had formerly been a member of the Legislature, and no one doubted his influence over that body would be sufficient to get a charter. Lindsay promised every think necessary to do the most extensive kind of bogus banking except a charter.

The building of the Bloomingville Bank was begun in the spring of 1816. A large substantial brick edifice was erected opposite the Shirley House, containing a vault. It was built by Ebenezer Hartwell, a wealthy man for that time. He employed a skillful engraver to make money plate before they procured a charter and before any money was put in circulation. Judge Wright, of Huron, went to Columbus to get the charter and was told of a statute just passed forbidding chartering any more banks for a year. He returned home and told the directors, and they announced that they had a charter and started to issue their money. But the people learned the facts and would not take the money so that the bank never did any business. It was the first brick or stone bank building erected probably in the State of Ohio. The wood addition was added later. At that time Bloomingville was the largest town in Northern Ohio, and the building became the residence of Eleutherus Cooke, and his son, Pitt Cooke, of Sandusky, was born there. In 1837 Andrew W. Prout, of Sandusky, was also born there.

Senator Beveridge in his "Life of John Marshall" says of the Bloomingville bank that: "In 1820 Bloomingville was a hamlet of ten houses, on the edge of the prairie. A bank company was formed, plates engraved, and the bank notes brought to the spot. Failing to secure a charter the adventurers sold their outfit at auction, fictitious names were signed to the notes, which were then put into fraudulent circulation."

The story of Bloomingville would not be complete without mention of the Good Templar Lodge, which for a generation exerted its influence over the community and is a lasting monument to the memory of W. Monroe Hills and his wife, Miss L. D. James, and the others who for thirty five years administered the obligation to several hundred young people and made the Village of Bloomingville the most peaceful and law abiding community in the county. Its building has now been absorbed by the Methodist Church and the lodge has passed out of existence.

Bloomingville has a population of fifty.

JACOB J. CRECELIUS

Everybody in Oxford Township, Erie County, knows Jacob Crecelius. He was born in that township on the 7th of December, 1869. His father, Jacob Crecelius, came from Germany to this country in 1850, and became a farmer. His mother, Catherine Erf, was a daughter of Jacob Erf, of Huron County. She died in 1875. His father died in 1900, leaving a family of nine children: Mrs. Pauline Beibricher of Bellevue, Ohio; Herman Crecelius, who died in 1921; Mrs. Catherine Scheid of Huron Township; August Crecelius of California; Dr. W. A. Crecelius of Sandusky; Mrs. Matilda Greiner of Sandusky; Dr. E. W. Crecelius, who died in 1920; and Professor A. A. Crecelius, Hiram College, Hiram, Ohio.

The subject of this sketch was the third youngest of these children. He received his education in the old district school house and then took a correspondence school law course at Chicago, but never attempted to practice. At the age of eighteen, he entered into contract with a firm as salesman and was very successful, but later came back to the farm to help his father. In 1893, he engaged in farming for himself, independent from his father, giving his special attention to farming and stock raising, being a well known horse dealer, etc. He purchased and sold many fine horses which he shipped to city markets before the automobile became general. He imported some very fine draft stallions, which sired better stock than the county had had before. He was always active in community work and in helping to modernize the life of the farmer in the locality where he lived. He was an active worker for the rural telephone and the rural mail service and in favor of good schools. He was always outspoken in his efforts to improve the educational facilities of his county. During the World War, he was active in the soliciting for the sale of Liberty Bonds and did all he could for the good of his country.

He began to hold township offices in his early twenties and has since then been continually on the Board of Education and is still a member of the local board. He served three terms as county commissioner, from 1910 to 1916, and was president of the board nearly all the time. He has been an active Democrat in state and national politics, but in favor of the best man for the position when it comes to local politics. He is a member of the Milan Masonic lodge, Milan Odd Fellows of which he was twice elected Noble Grand Master, and is also a member of the Knights of Pythias of Sandusky. Ohio.

He belongs to the St. John's Evangelical Church of Oxford Township.

On February 23, 1893, in Erie County, he was married to Minnie Olilemacher, daughter of Fred and Minnie Ohlemacher of Milan Township. She is one of a family of seven children and has also one half sister and one half brother. Mr. and Mrs. Crecelius have five children: Esther, now a teacher in State Normal School, who has been especially active in educational and social work with marked success; Homer, who is now at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, and who at the age of 18 enlisted and was over seas as a soldier for thirty months in the Aviation Service; Catherine, taught school and is now Mrs. Martin Brod of Lorain, Ohio; Frederic and Robert are at home and attending the high school in Sandusky.

Mr. Crecelius still lives on the farm and is ready at all times to help and to aid whoever may need it.


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