History of Harrison Township, Ross County OH

From: The County of Ross
Henry Holcomb Bennett, Editor
Published by Selvyn A. Brant
Madison, Wis. 1902


THE county commissioners on the 9th of December, 1812, erected Harrison township, by the following official order: "Ordered, that a part of Jefferson township be erected into a separate township, beginning at the northeast corner of section number five, in township nine, range twenty; thence south along the east line of Springfield township to the southeast corner of section two in township nine; thence east between the townships eight and nine, in range twenty, to the northeast corner of section two, in township eight and range twenty; thence south with the east line of said section, and to continue in the same direction until it strike the north line of Franklin township; thence eastwarcily with the north line of Franklin and Lick townships to the county line; thence north with said line to the southeast corner of Colerain township; thence west with the south line of Colerain township, to the place of beginning. Said township to be known by the name of Harrison township. The place of holding elections to be the house of John Combers."

On March 15, 1816, it was ordered "That all that part of Harrison township which lies east of Jefferson township, and south of a west line drawn from the northwest corner of Jackson county be, and the same is hereby attached to Jefferson township." These boundaries were changed on thee organization of Liberty township in 1832, leaving Harrison in rectangular form, bounded by four straight lines, about seven miles north and south, and six miles east and west. The east and west boundaries correspond with those of Colerain township, which joins Harrison on the north. The eastern boundary is the line between Ross and Vinton counties, with Liberty township on the south and Springfield on the west.

The surface of Harrison township is very much broken, and generally hilly. The drainage is principally towards the south, and the valleys of the principal streams, which are usually narrow, are the only exceptions to the general application of the term. The territory is well watered, the principal streams being the Little Walnut creek, which rises in the central portion of Colerain township and flows southward, through western Harrison, to the village of Mooresville, where it joins Walnut creek proper. The latter stream also has its source in Colerain township, entering Harrison near the north center and flowing southwesterly to Mooresville, thence in a southeastern direction, until it passes out of the townships. Piney run rises in the northeastern part of the township and flows west until it empties into Walnut creek, on section sixteen. Lick run, another tributary of Walnut creek, has its source near the center of the township. Sugar run rises south of Lick run, and flows into the Walnut just over the line in Liberty township. Poe's run rises in section fourteen, and flows south out of the township. These streams are all fed by many spring branches from the adjacent hills, as they pass southward in rapids and swift flowing current, thus affording good water power for the early mills which were established along their banks.

Extending from the northeast to the southwest through the township is a range of hills which might be termed mountainous in their character. A second range of hills rises to the northward, between Little Walnut and Walnut creeks, and a pinnacle on this range is dignified by the title of Rocky Knob. This rises to a height of five hundred feet above the surrounding valleys. Rocky Knob is located near the center of section eight, and no doubt acquired its title through the character of the company which it kept. Owing to the impenetrable gorges, high, rocky bluffs and tangled underbrush the superstitious Indians characterized portions of Harrison township as the Bad lands, or abode of evil spirits. Natural conditions were favorable to the existence of all kinds of game, ferocious animals and venomous reptiles. These were found there in great numbers by the white settlers, who were inclined to share the superstitions of the red men. It is stated that Mr. Samuel Hanson once killed a "blue racer" which measured sixteen feet in length. But the Harrison hills were favorite hunting rounds for the Indians, and the few daring white men who explored the region before 1800.

In later years the densely wooded country, with its impenetrable jungles, hidden caves and deep gorges, became the abode of an organized band of horse thieves, who preyed upon the infant settlements, and secreted their plunder until their accumulations justified a trip to the older communities, where sales were effected. On their return they would steal horses as they passed through the country and conceal them in this favorite resort, until they could sell them, perhaps to the same parties whose horses they had stolen and run off into Virginia or Pennsylvania. These depredations continued for many years.

Harrison township was originally covered with all kinds of native timber, and the quality was of the best. The principal varieties were oak, hickory and maple, with limited quantity of spruce and cedar on the hills and uplands, while the bottoms were covered with black walnut, butternut, elm, sycamore, buckeye and willow. A variety of timber known as pepperidge, commonly called "gum," grew there in abundance, and the early settlers used this timber in building their houses.

The soil of this township is a heavy bed of clay, overlying a subsoil of sand and gravel. Occasionally the sand appears on the surface. The bottom lands and level upland terraces are very fertile, and produce heavy crops of all kinds of cereals. The hillsides, often too steep for profitable cultivation, are seeded to grasses for pasturage, and thus all the land of the township is made to yield profitable returns to the owners. Stock raising and fruit culture are among the principal industries, and these afford good margins of profit. The rock formation underlying the soil and on the hillsides is almost exclusively of the sandstone and shale varieties, with an occasional ledge of limestone. The sandstone formation is of excellent quality for building purposes, and numerous quarries have been opened and operated to supply the local demand. But the presence of pyrites of iron renders it unfit for the finer architectural purposes, since, on exposure to air and moisture, streaks of iron rust appear on the surface. The presence of various metallic substances gives the stone a reddish hue throughout

The valleys were first settled, and in fact the hill lands were considered of little value in the early days, and were comparatively unoccupied until about 1840. In the year last mentioned there was a considerable influx of foreign born citizens, mostly Dutch, Irish and Germans, but of the latter, few. They purchased small tracts in the hills, ranging in extent from thirty to fifty acres. The country was then undeveloped, and these people located their cabins near some spring, without regard to roads or environments. Some of them could only be reached by the devious windings of a bridle path or trail; and there, in the seclusion of the forest and silent neighborly hills, they established their homes and lived out their existence in solitude. Their wants were few, and these were supplied for the most part, from the gardens and truck patches which they opened up on the hillsides. If they ever ventured out into the world of life and activity it was to sell some surplus product of their limited domain, and purchase some necessity which neither the forest nor the garden would produce. These were the "Hillicans," a title more expressive than elegant, yet applied to the descendants of the hill farmers to this day, particularly in Harrison and Springfield townships. Some have become Americanized, and, though their resources are limited and their wants few, they have forsaken some of the peculiar traits of their ancestors and mingle freely with the outside world in the social, political, educational and business affairs of life. In fact some of them, through the varying fortunes of sixty years, have become very well to do.

But the "Hillicans" of Harrison, Springfield and Huntington townships are a class of people peculiar to themselves. Even the most lowly of the pioneer settlers did not compare in poverty and misery with the persisting element of this so called "society." Some of them seem to be ignorant beyond the unlettered savage, and as "do-less" as they are ignorant A rude log but or a "dugout" in the hillside, without floor or ceiling, furnished with the crude product of unskilled and indolent hands, to the exclusion of almost every article of mechanical manufacture, is their "domicile." Beds are constructed by driving two crotched sticks into the ground at the proper distance from the wall; cross sticks are laid in these crotches and the other end driven into cracks between the logs; poles are then laid on these supporting bearings, thus forming "springs." Sometimes a tick is filled with straw or husks, but oftener the raw material is piled on the poles in sufficient thickness to answer the purpose; and by the time this is covered with ragged and filthy bed clothes or odoriferous skins, the pallet is "inviting to repose." Boxes, kegs, and even sawed blocks, take the place of chairs, and the top of a dry goods box, with cleats nailed across to keep the boards together, constitutes a table. To economize space, this is sometimes fastened to the wall at one side, with accommodating leather hinges, which permit of the table being let down out of the way, a stick of proper length and adjustment serving to hold it in place when desired for use. Fill such a den as this with a horde of half starved, naked and dirty children, and we have a typical "Hillicans" habitation in all its primitive glory. There may be slight variations in the manner and method of furnishing, but this description covers the average condition. They are isolated from the world, and often from nearby neighbors of their own class, secluded in the inaccessible recesses of the hills, and ekeing out a miserable existence which they would not change if they could, and could not change if they would. It is no wonder that the county physicians receive frequent calls, at the public expense, to visit these habitations of misery and wretchedness; nor is it strange that thousands of people in Ross county are not aware of the total wretchedness and depravity of the "Hillmans." Their existence is scarcely known to themselves. This class exists also in the remote hill regions of Pike, Vinton and Jackson counties, and furnishes an example of steady degeneration in the midst of advancing civilization. The difficulty of degeneration with them, with a view to the elevation of their mental, moral and physical conditions, lies in the fact that they are satisfied with their own state and consider themselves "as good as anybody else."

Benjamin Hanson was probably the first permanent settler in Harrison township. In 1798 he built his "gum tree" cabin in the western part of section twenty, and there ended his days. Samuel Hanson, father of Benjamin, a native of Maryland, moved to Kentucky in young manhood. He married Miss Trimble in Virginia, and with her returned to Kentucky, where he had previously established a home. In 1796 he came to the Scioto valley, and entered a section of land on the Pickaway plains. His location proved undesirable and unhealthful, and he came to Liberty township in 1798. He was nicely located and prosperity seemed to smile on him, when an unusual freshet in the Scioto swept away his possessions, the family barely escaping with their lives. In 1800, after meeting the reverses above mentioned, Mr. Hanson located in Harrison township, where he entered section twenty. The family of this early pioneer consisted of three sons and four daughters: Benjamin, Elizabeth, Harriet, Mary, Samuel, Hollis and Sarah. The sons were all soldiers in the war of 1812, the last named returning with the ranks of lieutenant. The children married and located in the vicinity, and some of their numerous descendants still live in the county. The father died in Harrison township, February 14, 1835, at the age of eighty three years. His wife preceded him many years, and he married for his second wife Rebecca Waterman, who bore him ten children, -viz.: John, James, Aquilla, Garnett, Harriet (second), Eliza, Amos, Greenberry, Rebecca and Maria. The two first named were born in Kentucky, and the youngest son succeeded to the ownership of the old homestead in Harrison.

Louis Graves settled in the township in 1800 and married Sarah Hanson. He was in service during the war of 1812. Robert Corken, a native of Ireland, came to America in his youth, and was one of the many early immigrants who sold his services to pay his passage across the ocean His "master" was a Quaker in Maryland, whose name was Mason. After purchasing his release with labor, he married Mason's daughter, and the couple came on horseback from Maryland to Ohio; and settled on "High bank prairie" in 1798. When the land sales opened he removed to a farm which he purchased near Mooresville in Harrison township, where he lived for many years. But in old age he removed to Londonderly in Liberty township, and died at the home of his son in law, Mr. Jones. Mr. Corken was one of the census enumerators of 1800, and was well and favorably known in the early settlement of Harrison township Thomas Hanks settled in the township in 1800; Joseph Van Gundy was a settler in 1801, and John Emerich, Stewart Little, James Carrothers and Abner Ezra located in Harrison in 1804. A year later the tide of emigration was increased very perceptibly, and many new homes were established in the wilderness, among whom were the families of Robert Simpson, William Johnson, Andrew Thompson, John Ortman, William Lockard and James Roebuck. Between 1806 and 1810, the settlement was increased by the arrival of George Stanhope, Lawrence Russell, John Russell, Philip Feirbaugh, Anthony Raypholtz (now known as Raypole), James Armsey and Joseph Moore. The two last named came about 1810, ands the others earlier.

The war of 1812 retarded immigration for a time, and also removed nearly every able bodied man from the township. William Johnson entered the army as a colonel, Abram Moore was a captain, and Abraham Lewis a major. Those enlisting with lower rank or as private soldiers, were Johan Ortman, drum major, Robert Corken, Abner Ezra and his son Thomas, James Roebuck, Joseph Can Gundy, Samuel Moore, George Stanhope, lieutenant, Edward Satts, Joseph Moore, John Young, Joseph Hanks, Daniel Ulm, Lawrence Russell, John Hanks, A. Raple and Hugh Dalahart.

The rapid flowing streams and abundant water supply in the early days stimulated the establishment of numerous mills along the creeks, which the apparently exhaustless supply of good timber seemed to demand. At one time there were as many as a dozen mills in operation on Walnut creek, only twenty miles from its source to its mouth. The first of these was built by John Emerich, near the old Stanhope homestead. Adam Yaryan established a small grist mill on Sugar run about 1820. He was a gunsmith by trade, and manufactured and repaired guns for the settlers in connection with his milling interests, and was thus one of the most useful men in the community, in a mechanical sense. Yaryan's mill was sold and its operation discontinued after some ten or twelve years. Of the numerious plants established along the creeks, all were soon abandon or merged into steam power, there being now one of the last named on the d property on upper Walnut. The removal of timber and consequent decrease in rain fall, reduced the volume of water until the supply became insufficient to operate even the most primitive plant for more than a few months in each year. Samuel Hanson erected the first distillery in the township, about 1809, on the east bank of Walnut creek, not far from the old Hanson homestead. Four or five other plants of this character existed at different times.

The Methodists were the first to occupy the field in the "harvest of souls." The Hanson cabin was an early preaching appointment. It is stated that during protracted meetings, which were held annually, as many as twenty to twenty five strangers were often entertained under the hospitable roof of the Hansons, though the dimensions of the eighteen by twenty cabin were hardly commensurate with the hospitality extended. The organization of a church was effected in 1802, and a log meeting house was built on land then belonging to Philip Feirbaugh. Nearly everybody then living in the Walnut valley were members of this church. The organizers were the families of Samuel and Benjamin Hanson, the Russells, James Roebuck, Lewis Graves, Andrew Thompson, Andrew Simpson, and James Carruthers. The old log church was succeeded by a better one about 1860, and the organization which was formed a hundred years ago, still has an existence. But the cemeteries have long since claimed the mortal remains of the founders. The valley of the Little Walnut was as distinctively a United Brethren locality as was the Walnut valley a Methodist seat Eatham church was organized by this denomination about 1810, and numbered among its earliest members the families of John Ortman, Abraham Lucas, Philip Feirbaugh and John Emerich. It grew in prominence and strength until it numbered some sixty members. It still has a persisting membership of thirty or forty in the community.

A religious sect, known as the New Lights, had an existence in the Stanhope neighborhood, and was under the successive pastorates of the Revs. Joseph Baker, Martin Baker and William Scott. George Stanhope, and a few of like faith, formed the church, and the congregation met for services at the private residences. The cardinal doctrine, as advocated by adherents to this creed, rested principally in the saving ordinance of baptism. They, also practiced the apostolic custom of washing. feet, and the observance of certain formulas of personal sacrifices for the spiritual welfare of each other. This organization has long since ceased to exist, though the cardinal principles have been transmitted to the succeeding generations.

The Baptists had an organized church in Harrison township as early as 1822, and maintained the same, with varying degrees of success, until 1850. They were never numerically strong, and the services were conducted in private houses, usually by volunteer ministers.

The only villages in Harrison township are "Mooresville" and Tucson. The former has been known since the organization of the township as Mooresville, though the postoffice name, in more recent years, has been Halltown. The village is located near the junction of the Little Walnut and Walnut creeks, and has one store, postoffice, a district school near by, a blacksmith shop, and six or eight dwellings. At the present time there are two physicians, Drs. March and Evans. Tucson is noted chiefly as being the location of the only grist mill now in the township. This is a modern flouring mill, with fair capacity, and excellent reputation for fair dealing and good work. It was established about 1842 by Samuel Wheeland as a saw mill, and also a limited capacity for grinding certain grains. Ten years later Mr. Greenberry Hanson purchased and refitted it for its present purpose. Since coming into the hands of the present owners, the McGee Brothers, it has been further enlarged and modernized. There is one general store at Tucson, the Gray Brothers being the proprietors; there is also a postoffice, mechanical shops, and eight or ten residences. The village was formerly called Charleston, and is located on the upper Walnut near the north line of the township. There are no churches or lodges in either of these villages.

The first justice of the peace in Harrison township was David Clark, who was elected in the spring of 1813. Abraham Lucas was also one of the earliest justices, being elected about 1816. James H. Search served in the officer of justice of the peace for many years. The first school house was erected in the valley of the Little Walnut, in the western part of the township. Mr: Dempsey, Joseph Lockard and Samuel Yaple were early teachers. As the inhabitants increased schools were opened from time to time, until there are now nine buildings devoted to school purposes within the bounds of the township. These are mostly frame structures, equipped with modern appliances and conducted by a corps of well qualified and practical teachers.

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