History of Blendon Township, Franklin County OH

From: History of Franklin County, Ohio
By: Opha Moore
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka - Indianapolis, 1930


Blendon, in the northern tier of townships in Franklin County, retains the lines of the original survey, although for judicial and other civil purposes it was for a time attached to Sharon Township. It lies in the United States Military Lands and is just five miles square, being bounded on the north by Delaware County, on the east by Plain Township, on the south by Mifflin Township and on the west by Sharon Township. It was first settled in 1806 and was organized in its present form in 1815. It was originally a part of Harrison Township, the major part of which was set off to Delaware County in 1810. While the surface of the township is broken up by Alum Creek and Big Walnut Creek, the soil is in most places very fertile and the farmers have as a rule been among the wealthiest of their class in Franklin County. The Akron division of the Pennsylvania Railroad runs through the township, with a station at Westerville, the one village of any importance. The Westerville Pike, an extension of Cleveland Avenue in Columbus (the old Harbor Road), the Sunbury Road and the Worthington and Granville Pike, heavily traveled highways, pass through the township.

The first settlers in Blendon were Edward Phelps and Isaac Griswold, who arrived from Connecticut in 1806. Mr. Phelps cut down the first tree felled by a white man in the township. His family is still well represented in the social and business life of Franklin County and has always been a prominent one. Simeon Moore, Sr., another son of Connecticut, was the next arrival. He was related to the Phelps family, which had succeeded in clearing a tract of seven acres, and, until he could carve out from the forest a sufficient place for his own cabin, lived with them. Mr. Moore took a farm of 500 acres on Big Walnut and the farm remained in the hands of his family until far into the twentieth century. The last Moore who farmed it was a voluminous reader and a "progressive" in all political matters. While a good farmer, he was well known in the Capital City for the smoothness of his arguments in favor of his peculiar political tenets. Simeon Moore, the first settler, had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War and had taken part in the historic battle of Bunker Hill. His son, Simeon, Jr., made buckets and sold them at Chillicothe for as much corn per bucket as a bucket would hold. Other settlers who followed quickly in the path cut out for them by these pioneers were: John Cooper, William Cooper, Colonel George Osborne, Francis Olmstead, Samuel McDonald, Samuel Puntney, Isaac Harrison, John Yovel, Cruger Wright, Reuben Carpenter, John Matoon, Garrit Sharp, Levi Goodrich, Bela Goodrich, Robert McCutcheon, Menzies Gillespie (who was an orderly sergeant in General Winfield Scott's brigade in the War of 1812), Israel Baldwin, William Watt, C. P. Hempstead, Robert Jamison, John Bishop, Ezra Sammis, Thomas Folland, Peter Westervelt, William Westervelt, Matthew Westervelt, Oliver Clark, Origin Rugg, Aaron Phillips, Jonathan Noble, Joseph Clapham, Grove Pinney, Elias Cornell, Samuel Loomis, Nicholas Budd, George W. Williams, Thomas Schrock, Edward Connelly, Jacob B. Connelly, Stephen Good, Edward Nutt, Welch Richey, John Judy, John Hagar, Edward D. Howard, Joseph Dickey, H. T. Henderson, Edwin Gravina, G. S. Dusenbury, Nathan S. Vincent and Abner Park. A few years later there came to Blendon a man, 'Squire Timothy Lee, who at different times proved his public spirit and generosity in many ways. He came from Massachusetts and was not only an educated man, but was imbued with modern views and knew business methods. To him is very largely due the fine development of the township. He held many offices in the township and, although always favoring feasible improvements, succeeded in keeping the township always out of debt, a difficult consummation in those days, when money was scarce and improvements were so woefully needed. He at an early date erected a distillery, to give the farmers a market for their corn, which could find a convenient place of sale nowhere else, but, becoming a strong advocate of not only temperance but total abstinence from the use of intoxicants, he dismantled the distillery in the belief that slack sales were a less evil than drunken lives. He built a grist and saw mill, however, and at one time operated a woolen mill within the township. He has been described as of the old Roman type, with a stern and unbending sense of duty.

Other early arrivals who made their mark on the new community were: Gideon W Hart, a surveyor, a colonel of militia and for many years a justice of the peace; Artemus Cutler, a farmer, miller, builder and exhorter in the church, who, being chidden for a rather unministerial tendency toward exaggeration, proved the charge against him by declaring that he "had shed barrels of tears over his weakness," but who withal was a very useful man among the immigrants into this wilderness; "Uncle" James Lawson, one of the twelve children of Peter P. Lawson and wife, who, after following the calling of a wagoner for many years, went into the live stock business, was the first man to ship live stock by rail from this section of the country to New York City, and, after amassing a fortune of more than $100,000, impoverished himself by making good losses resulting from the rascality of a decamping partner; 'Squire Randall R. Arnold, who, in coming with a party from the vicinity of Lake Champlain, passed through Buffalo the night before it was burned by the British in the War of 1812 and, when nearing the site of Wooster in this state, met General William Henry Harrison, afoot and, with one companion, leading a packhorse, from whose burden the travelers received an augmentation of their diminishing supplies.

Births and deaths marked the arrival of the immigrants, the first child born in the township being Benjamin Moore, son of Simeon and Roxanna Moore, who came to light in 1807. Ethan Palmer and Lovilla Olmstead celebrated the first marriage in the township in 1817 and death made its first visitation the next year, the young bridegroom, Ethan Palmer, being the victim. Isaac Griswold and Edward Phelps were the first to complete their log cabin homes and these two in 1806 sowed the first wheat planted in the township. Mr. Phelps was the first man to plant an orchard, carrying the young shoots many miles by packhorse, and several of those trees were still, in 1930, pointed out. Francis C Olmstead opened the first tavern at Blendon Corners, a location where was expected to grow a considerable community, but which has stood as to population about where it was more than a hundred years ago. Rev. James Hoge did not overlook Blendon Township in his missionary work and he held the first religious services there and thereafter held services every six weeks. The congregation that he gathered was made up of two elements of the Presbyterian denomination, those from Virginia and those from New England, but they finally merged in the Blendon Presbyterian Church. It was known as Lebanon Church. A Baptist congregation, known as the Central College Baptist Church, was formed, and, although never very large, has always been kept up.

The Methodists, the Evangelical Association and the United Brethren followed in order, the latter becoming the most important organization in Blendon Township. From an early day the United Brethren supported a foreign missionary and exerted an influence that has been paramount in that part of Franklin County. During this era of early church development the great revival wave of 1838 swept over Blendon and there was a camp meeting, echoes from which still linger in the traditions of the township. The principal preachers at this revival which resulted in many conversions, were James Gilruth, Uriah Heath and Jacob Young. The first named, Mr. Gilruth, belonged to the class of muscular Christianity that was at times found necessary for the spread of the Gospel on the rough frontier. He was a giant of a man, as strong as he was big, and, if he could not convert by power of exhortation, he was not at all averse from using his muscular ability to effect a rough and ready change of heart. During the great revival of 1838 a big bully, from Delaware, notorious as the champion fighter of this part of the young state, took it upon himself, with the aid of a few followers, to break up the services. The bully overpowered a guard, who was supposed to be the strongest man in the township, but he met his Waterloo when he faced the militant Christian, Mr. Gilruth. What the latter did to the rough was more than enough for the rude justice of the frontier, but the missionary, not content with giving a thorough thrashing to the disorderly fellow, shouldered him and carried him through the waters of Alum Creek to the house of a justice of the peace, who added an appropriate fine to the punishment already meted out.

Through the village of Westerville the township of Blendon has become famous all over the United States and even throughout the civilized world. It is there that the headquarters of the Anti Saloon League are centered and the big printing plant of the association is located, and from there emanate all the influences that that powerful organization brings to bear in its fight against the traffic in intoxicating liquors. It is also the seat of Otterbein College, an institution for higher education which has grown from a small academy to a widely known university and includes among its alumni many prominent men and women scattered not only throughout the United States, but in many foreign lands, where the missionaries of the United Brethren Church are active.

Westerville was laid out by Matthew Westervelt in July, 1829, but was not organized until 1857 and its formal incorporation was postponed until 1858. It is pleasantly located on the upper waters of Alum Creek, in the extreme northern part of Blendon Township and Franklin County. The high character of the early settlers made it natural that the educational atmosphere of Blendon Township should always be potent and a good school system was soon established. As early as 1866 the union school plan, just made legal in the state, was adopted in the little village of Westerville, a brick building, known long as the "Union School," was erected and the schools were placed under the superintendence of A. J. Willoughby, an exponent of the older and thorough method of educational administration.

This movement had, however, been preceded by a movement for the erection of an institution for higher learning in Blendon Township, a matter that had its inception at the big camp meeting of 1838. The school was originally a Methodist institution. It was incorporated by the Legislature in February, 1839, as the Blendon Young Men's Seminary. Matthew Westervelt donated twenty five acres of land to the seminary, buildings were erected and the school was opened under the direction of J. C. Kingsley and George Blair, who constituted the first faculty. It prospered for some years, but was finally overshadowed by the larger Methodist College at Delaware.

The United Brethren Church was desirous of founding a college for the education of its own youth, and it took over the property at Westerville, agreeing to pay debts against it of $1,200 and to continue it in operation as a school. Thus Otterbein University was established and named for the eminent founder of the church, Philip William Otterbein. It was chartered as a university by the Legislature in 1849. The first trustees were Lewis Davis, David Dresback and William Hanby, representing the Scioto conference of the church, and Jacob Barger, Peter Flack and P. Ilurlburt of the Sandusky conference of the church. William Hanby was father of Ben Hanby, the famous composer and author of the pre war anti slavery song, "My Darling Nelly Gray," which has been sung all over the world and for which the author never received a penny. He was a minister of the United Brethren Church, a teacher in the school and a musician of parts. He composed the song in a spirit of fervent antipathy toward the institution of slavery and sent it to a publisher, but heard nothing further from it until, on the occasion of a trip to Cleveland, he entered a music store and asked for some of the latest music. He was astonished to be offered his own composition, which he was assured was the latest, best and biggest hit of the day. He got the satisfaction of appreciated authorship and words of commendation from the publishers, but the latter refused to go farther in the way of compensation than a letter of praise for the song. Ben Hanby died young, leaving a wife and young daughter, who grew up to be a charming woman. His widow married again, her second husband being General S. H. Hurst of Chillicothe, Civil War soldier and at one time a member of Congress from Ohio.

The University grew and prospered. It was enlarged so as to be a co-educational institution, but the plans finally ran ahead of the financial support and for a time during and after the Civil War it was much straitened in its work. Its troubles were increased by the burning of a new building in 1870. With the building there were destroyed the college library, which included a copy of the Sinaitic manuscript, presented by the Emperor of Russia, and the libraries of the literary societies. The total loss was $50,000. There was at the time a disposition in some quarters to remove the college to some community that would offer sufficient inducements, but the citizens of Westerville came to the fore with a liberality and a spirit that prevented this. Funds were raised in Westerville and elsewhere, the burned building was replaced with a larger and a better one and the institution started on its way to a widened usefulness. It later benefited by the liberality of the Carnegie endowment fund, and, in accepting the gift, relinquished the privilege of calling itself a university. It is known more appropriately as a college and the scope of its work not only has not been limited by this, but has been materially enlarged.

The national officers of the Anti Saloon League were influenced toward locating their headquarters at Westerville by the fact that Otterbein University, always active in the cause of prohibition, as it had been active in the fight against slavery, had its site in that village. In the last general census. Westerville was shown to have a population of 2,881, a majority of whom are more or less closely interested in the college and the Anti Saloon League.

Blendon Township long had another institution for higher education. This was known as Central College and was situated on the Sunbury Pike, on the west bank of Alum Creek. The little settlement was known originally as Amaithea, but this was changed to Central College, and the hamlet, which has never been known incorporated, is still known by that name. In the late twenties and the early thirties of the nineteenth century there was a school at this place under the supervision of Rev. Ebenezer Washburn, who, although the sole member of the faculty, taught the rudiments of the classics, psychology and ethics, Butler's Analogy, that ancient standard argument for revelation, and the higher mathematics. 'Squire Timothy Lee, who, like Colonel Kilbourne in Sharon Township, was always at the forefront of all good movements in his neighborhood, in 1835 made to the New School branch of the Presbyterian Church the very liberal offer of 100 acres of land for the establishment of an institution for the higher learning. This offer was accepted and 'Squire Lee went beyond his original offer and erected, at his own expense, a brick dormitory of three stories height, which still stands, besides a dwelling house and two other buildings for the purposes of recitation and chapel service. Rev. L. A. Sawyer was the first president and he was assisted in the work of instruction by Rev. Ebenezer Washburn, who taught the rudiments of natural philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. The little college made a deep impress upon the lives of many residents of the township and sent out to the world many sons of these pioneers with a much broader culture than was usual in frontier communities. Its influence could long be seen in the refined homes of the farmers of that section of Franklin County. The growth of larger colleges so close, at Westerville, Granville, Delaware and finally that of Ohio State University at Columbus, in the end overshadowed it, and, its work done, it modestly faded out of existence. In later years a home for blind persons, who received instruction or care, as the case might demand, was established on the remnants of this fine old institution.

The Sunbury Road, which passes through Blendon Township, is a picturesque highway and has proved attractive to city dwellers to such an extent that it is dotted throughout its length by splendid and costly suburban homes.

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