History of Madison Township, Franklin County OH

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


Madison Township, lying in the southeastern corner of Franklin County, is the largest township in the county, and also one of the most prosperous of the agricultural districts of the state. It is bounded on the north by Truro Township, on the east and south by Fairfield and Pickaway Counties and on the west by Hamilton Township. It stretches eight miles north and south and seven miles east and west and contains about fifty five square miles of territory, there being a small rectangular piece cut off from the southeastern corner. It contains the prosperous villages of Groveport and Canal Winchester, the former having a population of 944 and the latter a population of 909 according to the federal census of 1930. The land of the township is wonderfully fertile and the value of the farm lands is higher than anywhere else in the county. Both are beautiful villages and Canal Winchester is one of the most business like small communities in the entire state.

Big Walnut, Alum and Black Lick Creeks flow through the township and form a junction within its northwestern limits, and Little Walnut passes through it from the east. The Ohio Canal was at one time a main highway of travel in Madison Township and in its days of activity did much to build up the business interests of Grovoport and Canal Winchester, both of which were stations along its course. The canal has long since been abandoned, but there are still to be seen remains of it between Groveport and Canal Winchester. The first settlements here were made in 1803 and 1804, among the early arriva1s being the following: John Wright, Sr., James Ramsey, Samuel Ramsey, Robert Ramsey, Stauffer Kramer, George Kalb, Sr., John Stevenson, Charles Rarey, Matthew Taylor, Samuel Taylor, John Swisher, William Fleming, the four Decker brothers, William D. Hendron, Frederick Peterson, Thomas Gray, George Smith, Billingsby Bull, Jacob Weaver, Ezekiel Groom, Philip Pontius, John Tallman, Abraham Harris, John Sharp, Emmor Cox, Henry Bunn, Henry Whitsel, Henry Dildine, Harmon Dildine, James McLeish, Samuel Bishop, Abednego Davis, John Gander, Jacob Gander, Jacob Rhoads, Simon Helpman, Michael Rohr, John Needles, George Needles, Philemon Needles, Andrew Needles, Cubbidge Needles, William Elder, John Kile, Alexander Cameron, Adam Haveley, Adam Sarber, Christian Sarber, the Daylong family, John Ranger, Zebulon S. Leigh, George Seymour, William Patterson, James Sandy, Samuel Murphy, Peter Long, Wesley Toy, George Edwards, Philip King, James B. Evans and Samuel Gares.

The first settlers met and conquered the usual hardships of pioneers and won for their descendants rich and beautiful homes, but the conquest of the land was more than usually difficult here, as the richness of the soil had produced a lavish forest growth. But there was firm purpose back of their migration into the wilderness. For instance Esau Decker walked all the way from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, carrying with him a cane which he cut from a willow tree at his old home. This cane he stuck into the soil to mark the spot he proposed to preempt and then walked back home for his family. When he again came to the "Land of Promise," this time with his family, he found that, as an omen of future growth, the cane that he had thrust into the ground had, after the manner of its kind and despite its long dry journey, struck root and branched out. It grew into an enormous tree, from which Mr. Decker wished his coffin to be made. He was dissuaded from this, and the tree was for more than a century pointed out as one of the first fruits of the original settlement. Samuel Brown, one of the first arrivals, married in 1809 Margaret Kelly of Pickaway County and was well on the way to the making of a comfortable home in the wilderness when he was killed by the falling of a tree which he was chopping down. His widow, despite the hardships of her early life, survived another marriage and lived to see her descendants of the fourth generation and to attain the age of 93 years. Elias Decker, a brother of Esau, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War when he came to Ohio and added to this evidence of loyalty a service in the War of 1812. At an advanced age he moved to Hancock County, in this state, where he died only a year short of being a centenarian.

The first village center was laid out in 1817 by Isaac Decker and was named Middleton, the name being changed in 1830 to Oregon. It is situated in the southeastern part of the township and has not grown much since its inception. It has never been incorporated and is still a crossroads hamlet. Saw mills and grist mills were necessarily constructed in the most available parts of the township as soon as there was a promise that they would approach the point of being self supporting. In 1806 Matthew Taylor, Sr., built a grist mill on Alum Creek and John Sharp put one up on the Winchester Pike, where it crosses Big Walnut. Both were long ago destroyed and no trace of them now remains. A saw and grist mill was built on Little Walnut south of Canal Winchester at an early date by Louis Kramer and one on Black Lick by John Rhoads. The digging of the canal opened up a new source of water power and Judge Chaney and his son, 0. P. Chaney, built on the canal just west of Winchester a mill in which both steam and water power could be used. A carding and fulling mill was built at lock 19 on the canal by Isaac and George Cowen and operated until it was bought by Judge Chaney, removed to lock 21 and much enlarged. Judge Chaney and his son were long prominent and public spirited citizens of the township and the family did much to make Canal Winchester what it is, one of the best small towns in the state. Benjamin Rarey started the first tannery and Adam Rarey and Isaac Decker opened the first taverns in the township, the former being the first landlord in Groveport. It was from this family that John Rarey, the greatest horse tamer in history, whose exploits are treated more at large elsewhere in this volume, sprang. The handsome residence which John Rarey built on the old Rarey farm has been remodeled and is now a popular hotel in Groveport, where tourists stop and automobilists resort from the city. Decker's tavern was located at Oregon.

Canal Winchester was laid out in 1826 by Reuben Dove, and was named for the town of Winchester, in Virginia, from which the Dove family had migrated. There were other places in this state which bore the same name, having been platted by pioneers from the Virginia town, and, when the canal was dug. the noun "Canal" was prefixed to the original name to distinguish the village from others.

Jacob L. Vance opened the first store and soon found competitors in Jacob Carty and Israel Julian. These mercantile ventures were followed by David Dixon, John F. and Samuel Bartlett, Samuel Pond, Christian and David Gayman, Tallman, Allen & Co., Tallman, Speaks & Co., Weisman & Spielman and Spielman Brothers. General John C. Speaks, who has served the Twelfth Ohio District for many terms in the National House of Representatives, and who rose from private in the Ohio National Guard to the rank of major general, serving through two wars and the Mexican frontier expedition, came from the family that early established itself in the business of Canal Winchester, of which he is a native. His brother, Oley Speaks, also was at Canal Winchester. He is one of the best known song composers in the United States, his compositions being of the highest grade, and is a leading baritone singer on the concert stage. Miss Alice Speaks, who died recently, also was widely known as a musician, her voice being a beautiful contralto.

Peter C. Benadum opened a tavern soon after the town was laid out and was followed by Samuel Taylor and Iran Mason. After the pioneer tavern had gone its way the village had a succession of modern hotels, its business being such as easily to support two good modern institutions of the kind.

The country lying around Canal Winchester can not be excelled in productiveness of corn and naturally the business of the village centers around grain. An enormous amount of corn and wheat is bought by the granaries of the town every year and shipped to the larger markets. There are several elevators, warehouses and mills, and even back in the days of canal transportation a great amount of grain was shipped from Madison Township. Hiel Brockway, a resident of Canal Winchester, ran a line of canal packets from Lockbourne to Cleveland and amassed a fortune. He died at Brockport, N. Y., whither he removed when the canal business declined.

The village of Groveport is the result of the union of two independent efforts at founding a community. In 1843 Jacob B. Wert leased some land from Adam Rarey and laid out what afterward became the western part of Groveport. He called his embryonic municipality Wert's Grove. The next year Mr. Rarey platted what is now the eastern part of the village and named it Rarey's Port. Both ventures proved successful and the rival communities throve side by side until it became evident that the only proper course was a union of interests and organization. But neither community founder cared to give up the name he had chosen for his village. Then the residents, considering themselves as much interested as anybody, decided to effect a compromise. They would permit the village to be distinguished by the name of neither of the founders, but decided to adopt the unimportant second parts of the two compound names. And so the new village became known to the world as Groveport and under that name was incorporated in 1846. Mr. Wert was one of the heaviest shippers of grain and live stock in Central Ohio. A corn country, Madison Township was also a hog producing territory, and in one year Mr. Wert killed and packed 35,000 hogs, which would compare favorably with the activities of many packers of the present day in much larger communities.

The second store in Groveport was opened by William H. Rarey and James Cooken. Other prominent merchants were William and Samuel Darnell, A. C. Headley and the Eberlys. The latter removed to Columbus and were for many years among the foremost wholesale merchants of the capital city.

These two villages, Groveport and Canal Winchester, are today among the best and prettiest in Central Ohio. Although they are so near each other, there has never been bitter rivalry between them. Groveport has become more of a pleasant small town residential center, while Canal Winchester has taken on more business airs, has a newspaper of long standing, published for many years by the Gaymans. Between the two lie several smaller communities, with distinctive names, but unincorporated, whose residents for the most part are employed in Canal Winchester.

The Methodists were the first religious sect to find a home in Madison Township. They put up a log meetinghouse on Black Lick in 1820 and an annual camp meeting was held in the vicinity, the moving spirit being John Stevenson. The congregation grew into the organization at Asbury Chapel, a brick church built in 1872. So zealous were these early churchmen to have communion with their fellow spirits that, it is told, Ezekiel Groom and William Bush first blazed and then with axes cut a path eight miles long through the wilderness to give them a short cut to a place of meeting. Two other Methodist churches were organized, Hopewell, from which the Groveport Methodist Church grew, and the Methodist society at Canal Winchester. A Lutheran church was established in Canal Winchester in 1839, the first minister being Mr. Wagenhals, the pioneer founder of a family prominent in the county. From this family came Lincoln Wagenha1s, one of the very successful theatrical producers of New York City. Mr. Wagenha1s is a son of the late Dr. Wagenha1s, a brother of the late Dr. Frank Wagenhals, and a graduate of the old Central High School in Columbus. A United Brethren church was organized in Groveport in Canal Winchester early in the history of that village, and a Presbyterian congregation was got together by Rev. Dr. James Hoge, whose activities in the early church movements in Franklin County are familiar to all who know the history of the local Presbyterian communities. A tract of three acres for a church and burying ground was donated by William Patterson and the first person buried there was his daughter, who died within a week after the gift was made. In addition to these, there are a Reformed Church, a Mennonite church and a Catholic church in the township.

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