History of Paxton Township, Ross County, OH

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


THE territory embraced within this township, as originally organized, included all the land in Ross county which lay on the west of the Scioto river, as well as the territory subsequently detached as parts of Highland and Fayette counties. The organization of Paxton dates from 1800. It is one of the six original townships which retained their names and identity after the subdivision of territory in erecting new townships. The original territory of Paxton has contributed in the formation of Twin, Buckskin and Paint townships. Paxton is not only one of the most fertile and wealthy townships of the county, but it is also one of the most picturesquely beautiful in outline, historically interesting in the details of its civil existence, and prosperous in its materialdevelopment.

Paint creek is nearly the central line of the township, and its most striking topographical feature. The western line of the township and county strikes Paint creek at the mouth of Rocky fork, that stream forming the dividing line between Paxton township and Highland county. Here begin the rapids of Paint creek, the water, confined within a comparatively narrow limit by limestone cliffs, makes a descent of nineteen feet in a distance of about two hundred yards. This splendid water power was utilized in a very early day, as was that, also, near Grassy ford, where there is a natural fall of eleven feet. General Massie and the Smith brothers were the pioneers in recognizing these natural advantages.

Paxton township seems to be a combination of the wild, natural scenery of Huntington and Paint, with the unsurpassed fertility of Concord, Twin and Union.

Gen. Nathaniel Massie erected his house on a beautiful plateau at the base of a hill overlooking the Paint creek valley, and here established his home in the Scioto valley, in the year 1800. This was a structure of more than ordinary pretensions, and was the admiration of his former comrades. He also aided materially in establishing the early industries of the township. His memory will ever be revered by the succeeding generations in Paxton township, where his useful career as a resident of Ross county had its inception. He was a patriot, a philanthropist, a statesman, an active public spirited citizen, a generous and hospitable entertainer. In fact, he possessed, in a marked degree, every element in nature which endears a man to his fellow beings. Both the general and his estimable wife died at their old home on the banks of Paint creek in Paxton township, and a humble sandstone slab marked the general's resting place for many years afterward. It bore this inscription: "In memory of Nathaniel Massie, who was born December 28, 1763, and died November 3, 1813, in the fiftieth year of his age."

After an undisturbed repose of more than half a century the bodies of General Massie and wife were removed to Grandview Cemetery, at Chillicothe, and reinterred, with becoming ceremony. The site of their last resting place is one of peculiar fitness and adaptability, since from the door of the tomb can be seen the city of Chillicothe, which the general founded, and the beautiful valleys of the Scioto and the Paint which he explored, before a white settlement existed in the. valley.

The first permanent improvement which was made in Paxton township is credited to William Kent, who was employed by Nathan Reeves to clear forty acres of land in the wilderness. In the spring of 1795, Kent entered upon this hazardous undertaking, coming from Pennsylvania for that purpose. He cut the first tree ever cut in Paxton township, and prosecuted his labors alone in the great. wilderness for six months, when other settlers began to arrive. On this "first cornfield" in the township, was erected one of the earliest dwellings, aside from the primitive log cabins of the first years of settlement. This was built. in 1805, and was owned, in more recent years, by R. R. Seymour, who succeeded to the ownership of the land about 1832. Reeves and Kent continued to occupy this land until the year last written, the former keeping a house for the entertainment of travelers. It was on this property that "Reeves' crossing" was located, a historic spot upon or near which two Indian battles were fought, as described in another chapter.

Quite a numerous population had settled in Paxton as early as 1800. Robert and Thomas Dill, brothers, were of the number who came from Kentucky and settled in the Scioto valley, in that year. Their native home was in Pennsylvania, whence they emigrated to Kentucky a few years previous to their location in Paxton township. Here they purchased a portion of the tract of land located under the warrant of Thomas Peyton, that document embracing the whole of "horseshoe bend" in Paint creek. Near Robert Dill and Nathaniel Reeves was the home of Christian Platter, who located in 1800, on land subsequently known as the Aaron Fernow farm. It was on this faint that General Massie established the first saw mill in Paxton township.

Joseph Ogle came in 1800, a native of Maryland, and an early emigrant to Kentucky. He hauled wood for the use of the first legislature convened at Chillicothe. Benoni Baker came to Paxton with his father's family in 1800, and located the parental home near the farm of J. M. Fernow. On the marriage of Benoni, he located on a farm at Big Falls, and afterward removed to land which he purchased on Yellow Hill There he ended his days, and transmitted the farm to his son Benjamin. Robert Carson came into Ross county with Reeves, in 1798, but first settled in Highland county, for a few months, when he relocated in Paxton township, and here, in 1799, was born his son, D. C. Carson, who was probably the first white child born in the township. John Blackstone, a Virginian, came to Paxton in 1802, and settled on a two hundred acre farm near the foot of big Copperas Mountain, where he spent the remainder of his days. The farm has passed into other hands, though some of his descendants still live in the township.

Probably no name in Paxton township is more intimately connected with progessive business interests and the upbuilding of infant industries in the early days, than that of Christian Benner. He came to the township in 1803, and settled on the north side of Paint creek, near the site of the old mill which bears his name. He was of sturdy and thrifty German stock, and at once began to adapt himself to his surroundings, and to look about for the means of benefiting those less favorably situated, and at the same time to "turn an honest penny" for himself. This culminated in a determination to utilize the valuable water power, and to erect. a mill in the woods. He built a dam, and placed a primitive saw mill in operation, which turned out lumber for the public, and at the same time prepared the timbers and lumber for a grist mill, which was soon to follow. About 1810, he established a forge at the mouth of the Buckskin, and continued to operate that, in connection with his milling interests, until his death in 1869. In 1845 the old mill was torn down and replaced by one of more modern style. In the same year, finding his forge somewhat out. of date by reason of the extensive improvements in the iron business, he changed it into a plant for the manufacture of woolen mill machinery, which proved so profitable that the old building was torn down and replaced by one better adapted to the wants of the trade.

John Benner, a son of Christian, who as a child accompanied his parents from the old Pennsylvania home, took charge of the business on his father's death, and operated it with the same degree of success. It was finally transmitted to D. T. Benner, son of John, who operated the various lines successfully, having, until recently, but one competitor to the flouring mill in the township.

Abraham Pepple became a resident. of Paxton in 1808, coming from Kentucky. A short time afterward his father died in Maryland, and Mr. Pepple made the trip on horseback to the parental home. Returning, he purchased land in Paint township, where he died. His son, Austin Pepple, who was born in Ross county, purchased a portion of the General Massie homestead in 1850. The family is well represented in the township.

William Taylor came from Kentucky in 1801, and James Taylor, his brother, a year later. They purchased a large tract of land near Bainbridge, where numerous descendants still live. William Taylor had a family of fourteen children who lived to years of maturity, and married. It is a prominent and well known family. Joseph Rockhold emigrated from Pennsylvania in 1797, and settled on the Highland Prairie. In 1800, he removed from there to Paxton township. He served as a captain during the war of 1812, and was twenty seven years a justice of the peace in Paxton. Thomas and William Stockton were also soldiers during 1812, the latter being captain of a company. Amos and Joseph Reeder were among the early settlers of Paxton.

The Gault family was another of the earliest, coming from Virginia to Ohio, in 1790. The founder of the family in Paxton served in the company of Capt. Joseph Rockhold during the war of 1812, was in Hull's surrender, and also at the siege of Lower Sandusky under General Harrison. In later years he was captain of a rifle company of State militia. It is said of him that he went from Bainbridge to Kentucky as the driver of the team which conveyed Henry Clay to his Kentucky home when returning from the treaty of Ghent.

Martin Gilmore became a resident of Paxton soon after the battle of Reeves' crossing, in which he participated. He became separated from his comrades during the action, and two Indians gave him chase. As he ran, he turned and "fired, killing one of his pursuers near the site of the old Reeves' mill, when the other gave up the pursuit. Mr. Gilmore located at the town of Amsterdam, but subsequently removed to Bainbridge, where he lived for many years, after raising one of the first cabins in the place. He was a tailor by trade. John Thompson, another early settler, served several years as county commissioner. Frederick Free was another very early settler. He was the father of George Free, who was a resident of the township all his life and married a daughter of William Warnick. Abram Pepple was a soldier from Paxton in the war of 1812. William Kent and John Fernaur were other early settlers.

The first ministers to hold religious services in the township were Rev. William Mick and Rev. James B. Finley. The latter frequently preached to the Indians, and had a colored man to act as interpreter. The first hotel in the township was kept by John Tarbett; the first postmaster was Elijah Kelley, who was a blacksmith, and served as justice of the peace for many years. The first tannery was established by Nathan Reeves, two miles east of Bainbridge, at the crossing of Paint creek. He also kept a ferry boat at the same place. The first school house in the township was built on the farm of Christian Platter. This was also the first regular preaching place.

General Massie assisted in building the first grist mill in the township. He also established the first iron industry, still house, and saw mill. He laid out the town of New Amsterdam, which was abandoned as unhealthful, and established its successor, Bainbridge, laid out in 1798. Eneas Fort& was the first merchant in this town, Elijah Kelley, the first blacksmith, justice and postmaster, and Austin Southard, the first shoemaker. They and their families were the sole inhabitants of Bainbridge for two years or more.

The first election of which we have any record, occurred at the house of Christian Platter, on May 15, 1802. Since this election was held in pursuance of authority conferred by the second territorial General Assembly, it is probable that the following were the first officers of the township: William Kent, clerk; Thomas Dill, Michael Harr, Thomas Kerr, Joseph Taylor, and James Hughey, trustees; John Swan and Samuel Teetors, overseers of the poor; Zachariah Taylor, John Wilson, and Christian Platter, fence viewers; Nathaniel Massie, Enoch B. Smith and John Combs, appraisers of houses; John Combs, lister of property; Frederick Braugher, John Brown, Hugh Cochran, William Fellers, James Wilson and James Curry, supervisors of highways; John Combs, John White and Jacob Harr, constables. These twenty four officers were duly sworn, and entered upon the discharge of their duties for the year 1802. The reader will notice a number of names in the list of officers not before mentioned among the early settlers of the township; but the fact that they were sufficiently identified with it as early as 1802, to render them eligible to public office, is the best of evidence that they should be included among the earliest settlers. It will be noticed that William Kent was continued in the office of township clerk until 1812, the office of treasurer being included with that of clerk, after the close of the territorial government. His name appears in the list of township officers, in various positions, until 1816, as do several others of the first named officials.

The town of Bainbridge, which had a precarious existence for the first years of its life, gradually assumed the proportions of a thrifty town. As before mentioned, it was scarcely a business center, with but three families living in it, though there were successful business enterprises located near by. Massie's mills, distillery, and furnace were located two miles to the westward; Reeves's tannery two miles east, and Benner's extensive interests, a half mile to the north. But with the establishment of the postoffice, and a few primitive enterprises, the town began to take on new life, and by 1807 it was incorporated by act of the General Assembly, and aspired to became a county seat in 1846. During the war of 1812, three companies were enlisted in Bainbridge and were led to the front by Captains Yocum, Joseph Rockhold and John Grey.

Bainbridge is supported by a rich agricultural district, remote from formidable rival towns, and is an extensive shipping point on the Ohio Southern railroad. Its business men are a class, of progressive and enterprising people, who command ample capital and first class facilities for the transaction of the large volume of business. Though it has not made rapid strides in growth, yet its population is mainly of that solid, permanent character, which adds financial strength and stability. According to the census of 1900, the population is nine hundred and fifty four. The town now has well built residences and business blocks and a handsome church building.

Charles Robbins was the first druggist in Bainbridge, going into druggist business there in 1847. J. H. Ruling established the first hardware store, in 1860.

The Methodist Episcopal denomination was the pioneer religious organization in Paxton township. As early as 1800, itinerant ministers of that sect held religious services in the settlers' cabins, and invaded the schoolhouses for the same purpose, as soon as they were established. In 1818, John Mick and John Collins, two of the early ministers in the community, established a church organization in Bainbridge. A class was organized under the leadership of James Gaskle, consisting of himself and wife, and four others. Gaskle's house was a regular preaching place for some years. He finally donated a site, and assisted in building the first church in Bainbridge; and about 1820 a small frame church was erected. The congregation occupied this humble home until 1834, when a more pretentious structure was erected, which was sold in 1868, to the colored Methodist church. On that date a new location was chosen, and the congregation, still numerically weak, began the construction of a building which cost about ten thousand dollars. On April 2, 1876 this building took fire, and the roof and interior woodwork was destroyed, but the damage was soon repaired.

In the early days, the church at Bainbridge was one of twenty three appointments on a territory of thirty square miles, embraced within the Hillsboro circuit. The minister was required to make the rounds in twenty days, and preach twenty nine times. Fortunately he did not have to prepare a sermon for each appointment, but could, if he would, use the same sermon, an advantage which the stationed preacher does not enjoy. The church at Bainbridge has been honored with the presence of many eminent divines during its years of existence, not the least among these being the pioneers of Ohio Methodism, Robert and James B. Finley.

The Protestant Methodist church in Bainbridge dates its existence from Larch 26, 1848, when, by reason of a disagreement on matters of discipline, a number of members withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal church. The church was organized with a membership of fifty persons under charge of Rev. Simon P. Keyota. A church building was erected in 1849, and dedicated on July 20th of that year. Subsequently a country church was established under the supervision of the presiding pastor in Bainbridge, and maintained for a number of years, but this was abandoned many years ago, and the membership principally absorbed by the mother church in Bainbridge. It is a strong and influential religious organization.

The Presbyterian church in Bainbridge was organized about 1841, though the sect held religious services there for many years previously. The old log school house, which bears the honored distinction of having been the birthplace of three churches, was their first preaching point, beginning in the unorganized religious services of the early days. Ministers from South Salem, and other points, held occasional meetings; but the Rev. Moses Stoader was probably the most prominent in effecting a church organization. Rev. George G. Poe was the first pastor, and John Steel, Joseph Taylor, and Frederick Burgett were members of the first session. A church was erected in 1842. After the retirement of Mr. Poe as pastor, Rev. S. P. Dunham was installed, and served the church efficiently as the regular pastor, for twenty five years. The church organization is still maintained, with a fair membership, embracing sonie of the best citizens of the town.

Paxton is well supplied with district schools, now in striking contrast with the log houses and antiquated instruction of former days.

Among the early teachers in the township were Gray, Cowley, French and King - all "sturdy knights of the birch" - whose students, like themselves, have long since sought the repose of another life.

Reference has been made to the old log school house in Bainbridge, wherein it is designated as the cradle of churches, from which arose the three prosperous religious organizations of the town. But. that was not its only mission, nor in fact the principal one. While serving in the capacity of town hall, a voting place, a general receptacle for itinerant shows, and all classes of public meetings, it was also the birthplace of educational ambitions, which culminated in some of the far distant colleges of the day. The old log school house has been superseded by a fine brick structure, with a systematic arrangement. for the instruction of pupils in all grades of advancement, each of the various departments being in charge of a teacher specially adapted to the class of instruction required, and the whole under the direct supervision of an educator of known ability and success. The schools of Bainbridge are second to none of like grade in the county, and reflect, in a marked degree, the intelligence and public spirited enterprise of those who sustain them. A special school is provided for the education of colored children. This is sufficiently extensive to give its students the advantages of a good, practical education.

In the early days of the life of Bainbridge, there was quite a pronounced temperance sentiment in the town, and this has continued, to some extent, throughout its subsequent. history. As early as 1846 the Sons of Temperance had an organization there, and this was followed in later years by various other societies of similar import.

Bainbridge lodge, No. 196, F. and A. M., was organized on October 18, 1849, the following named persons being the organizing members and the first officers: J. D. Miller, Samuel Tweed, G. D. Teter, Jacob McDaniels, James Slater, C. W. A. Halley, J. M. Baird, and Daniel Kelley. The lodge is in a flourishing condition, both numerically and financially. On May 13, 1869, a charter was granted by the Grand Lodge of Ohio, authorizing the existence of Bainbridge lodge, No. 437, I. O. O. F., which was organized on August 20th of the same year. The charter members were W. L. Tulleys, D. E. Peck, J. H. Huling, J. D. Hathaway, J. A. Pulleys, and John W. May. Friday evening of each week was designated as the time of regular meetings. Though its growth was not rapid during the early years of the lodge's existence, yet its membership was selected with care, and represented some of the best men in the town and adjacent country. In recent years, however, the accessions have been more numerous.

Paint Valley lodge, No. 496, Knights of Pythias, was organized in the early nineties, with a charter list embracing the names of many of the most prominent young men in the town and surrounding country. Its growth and prosperity was assured from the first, and the lodge is now in a. flourishing and prosperous condition. The Pepple brothers - Dennis and J. F. -were prime movers in the organization, as were also John Crum and Millard Freshour.

Paxton township was originally specially rich in the works of the mound builders. Many of these remain in sufficient state of preservation to convey an idea of their original grandeur, but many others have been effaced by the vanishing traces of time, or the too active plow of the husbandman. Some have been found to contain an "excellent quality of brick clay," utilized in manufacturing building material; others have yielded up their rocks for the accommodation of fanners in building walls, while others have been cut through, or leveled, in the making of roads. Vestiges of a very remarkable defensive work still remain near the left bank of Paint creek, on the Milford and Chillicothe turnpike. But two portions of this famous work remain in sufficient distinctness to be recognized. One is a square inclosing twenty seven acres, and the other is a circle embracing seventeen acres. These are but outworks flanking, at either side, a fortification of about fifty five acres. In the center of this larger work, which is nearly circular in form, is the largest mound in the valley. It is elliptical in form, two hundred and forty feet long, one hundred and sixty feet wide, and about thirty feet high. This extensive system of intrenchments was originally enclosed by a high wall two miles in length. On each side of the square flanking work is an opening of considerable width, and guarding these exits, and on the inside of the embankment, is a mound. In and about the fortifications are numbers of other mounds of varying size, and, formerly there were to be seen, within the larger circle, vestiges of a small circular embankment, having a diameter of two hundred and fifty feet.

On the north side of the Milford and Chillicothe turnpike, near what is known as the "fourth gate," are two fine connecter mounds, and two others were destroyed in cutting the road through. In the early days many of the hills contained rude structures of stone, the use and origin of which will always remain problematical. Evidently they were for shelter, and some are of the opinion that they were designed as hiding places for hunters, being located, usually, near some "lick" or watering place, where the large game was likely to pass. On the advent of the earliest settlers, some were fallen into shapeless heaps of stone, while others retain their outline, even to this day. They were usually constructed with a rudely arched roof, not high enough to permit a man to stand erect, but deep enough to shelter him from the storm.

It is said that Paint creek valley furnished a species of oxide of iron with which the Indians delighted to adorn themselves with hideous "warpaint;" and that, in later years, some of the white settlers used this as a substitute for the genuine article, in painting their barns and other out buildings. The color was a reddish brown. Even after the Indians had become peaceful, they frequently returned to the falls, or slate hill, known as Copperas mountain to procure supplies of this much coveted toilet article.

The soil of Paxton township is generally fertile and well adapted to the raising of all kinds of grains, grasses and fruits. The valleys of the Paint and Buckskin creeks are especially rich and productive, while the hillsides and upland is not so desirable for farming purposes, yet it is of better quality than much of the land of similar character in other localities. The territory was originally covered with a fine growth of timber in which the hardwood varieties predominated. There is much valuable timber still in the township.

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