Ashtabula Co., Ohio
SOURCE: History of Ashtabula County, Ohio
Large, Moina W.
Topeka :: Historical Pub. Co.,, 1924, 1132 pgs.
JOHN MORGAN - ORIGINAL OWNER - TIMOTHY P. HAWLEY - FIRST
SETTLERS - GRIST MILL ERECTED IN 1808 - PIONEER FARMING - EARLY HOMES - EARLY
SETTLERS - CHURCHES ORGANIZED - TURNPIKE ROAD - INDUSTRIES - ROCK CREEK -
BUSINESS - LODGES - FIRST TEACHERS INSTITUTE.
situated between Austinburg and Rome, in Range No. 4 was a part of the original
Richfield Township until 1819, when it was detached and given the name of
Morgan, after John Morgan, the man who purchased it from the
Connecticut Land Company in 1798. He did not retain possession very long
before he sold it to another land company of the East, who sent Timothy R.
Hawley, of Farmington, Conn., to make a survey of the township and plat it
into 100-acre lots, preparatory to the sale of the tract.
The company gave Mr. Hawley three lots,
and a mill site on the creek, in consideration of his agreement to erect a saw
mill within a year. After he had completed his survey and had broken a north and
south road through the township from Austinburg to Trumbull County, Mr.
Hawley looked with satisfaction upon his accomplishment that constituted
the preliminary work of a future thriving section, which he was to father, as
the first active settler. He then returned to Connecticut and, in the early
summer of the following year, he brought his family and household possessions to
their new home in the West.
His activities and interest in the settlement and
development of the township of Morgan continued for several years, during which
he served as postmaster, justice of the peace and as all round prominent
citizen, until he was elected clerk of courts of Ashtabula County, whereupon he
moved to the county seat and there passed the remaining portion of his life.
In the year 1801 Nathan and Asa
Gillett, with their families, arrived in Morgan from Connecticut, and
proceeded to establish a home. Had all of the incoming families of the good old
New England stock been so large in numbers as that of Nathan Gillett,
this county would have increased in population much more rapidly. There were ten
mouths to feed in this little household circle, and the problem of keeping them
all "fed up" was no small one in those days. The man who would venture the
taking of such a family into an unbroken wilderness had, as we would say today,
It was, of course, necessary to clear off the timber,
before space could be had for raising anything in the ground to supply the
family larder, and that usually meant that settlers could not hope for anything
in the way of crops from their own land during the first year of their stay.
No grist mill was erected in Morgan until 1808, and
residents prior to that year were compelled to take their grain some distance
for grinding, the nearest mill being at Austinburg. The distance in miles was
not so great, but the trouble was experienced in the conveyance, for the forest
roads were very difficult to travel. The earliest comers were able to raise only
enough potatoes, wheat and other essentials to supply their own families, so
those who followed, and had to wait a year before being able to grow what they
needed for their own use, had to travel the bad roads to the nearest market
town, which was often many miles and several days' journey, and buy what they
needed, then cart it home.
For these purchasing expeditions, several heads of
families would club together and assign two or three of their number to make the
journey. It was not safe for one man to undertake the trip alone, because of the
chance that he might fall prey to some wild beast, or become victim of an
accident that would disable him, perhaps miles from any habitation. Owing to the
condition of the first made roads, a team of oxen could cover only a few miles
in a whole day, and it was often necessary for the men in charge of these
expeditions to spend several nights in succession on their wagons, it being
usually necessary for one of the party to keep awake to protect the oxen and the
men against wild beasts.
The mother of today can not imagine the worry that the
good wives at home must have experienced on occasions when their husbands were
absent on these trips. It is difficult, in these days of easy communication, to
realize the blessing of the telephone, the telegraph and the wireless.
When the head of the house left his family then for an
absence of several days, during which he would be in the way of many dangers, he
had no way, upon his arrival at his destination, of communicating with those at
home; if he were detained at some intermediate point on his route, he could not
step into a drug store and tell his wife all about it over the telephone, the
same as if he were in his own house. There was nothing for the wife to do but
await his return, without knowledge of his way-faring fortunes, until her long
watchful eyes discerned up the road the old ox team plodding laborously toward
its home stable, and, as they came nearer, the men of the outfit waving their
hats in air in greeting and joy as they beheld the long journey's end,
Nathan Gillett and has family enjoyed the
advantages of an unusually cozy home, built for them in the interest of comfort.
History describes the house of the Gilletts as a building 18 feet square
and built of undressed logs, eight logs high. To keep out the cold winds and
rain, the spaces between the logs were filled with split timbers and plastered
in with clay, making them perfectly tight. Long strips of elm bark, supported by
long and uniform poles, constituted the roof, all openings of which were like
wise plastered tight. Three openings, each two feet square, served the purpose
of giving light and air, oiled white paper taking the place of glass in the
windows. A mud chimney completed the general architecture, and thus fortified
against the elements, the Gillett family had a very comfortable
existence, during the first few years of their sojourn; then a new and larger
home was erected, also of logs, in another nearby locality, and the original
home became the first schoolhouse of the township. In this modest and crude
place of learning the youth of the vicinity were schooled for their future
usefulness in the community and elsewhere. The first teacher of the town was
Miss Diantha Wilcox.
From the arrival of the first comers, in 1801, the
population increased quite rapidly. The names appearing among the early
settlers, who came prior to 1805, as chronicled by history, included the
families of J. B. Battell, D. M. Curtis, M. C. Wilcox, Hosea Wilcox, Eli
Porter, Edmond Strong, John Wright, Sebe Bronson, Q. F. Atkins, Rosswell
Stevens, I. H. Phelps, James Stone, Luman Beach, John Wright, Stephen Knowlton,
Erastus Flowers, J. D. Hawley, Joseph Bates and others.
Several of these families settled on adjoining
properties, thus constituting a little colony that formed the nucleus for the
town that grew in later years. They were all God-fearing people and very early
in their stay established Sabbath observation services. The first of these
gatherings was held in 1802, at the home of John Wright and family, with
the entire community in attendance. These good people held religious meetings
regularly, at homes that were always open to them, for a number of years. As the
roads became more stable and passable, many journeyed to Austinburg and attended
the Congregational Church there, which was the first church erected on the
Western Reserve. There was not a regularly organized church in Rock Creek till
the year 1.819, that being of the Presbyterian faith. This society built a
church in 1829 at the township center. Fifteen or sixteen years later the
building was moved to property adjacent to the center of population, which was
nearer the southern border of the township. The Rev. Ralph Stone
was the first regular minister to this congregation.
In 1822 the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at
the home of Alfred Bronson, and in 1844 the organization occupied their
new house of worship in the village.
The Disciple Church was organized in 1874 and put up a
brick church during the same year.
In the early days of Morgan Township the Torrington Land Company, of
Connecticut, who owned such of the property as had not been individually
purchased, deeded to the future generations one lot for .the establishment of
schools, a lot on which should be erected a parsonage for occupancy of a
resident minister, together with half of a lot as a present to the first
preacher who should establish his home in the village. Then it donated a five
acre plat to be used as a public square, and on which were to be erected future
churches. Thus the future religious interests of Morgan were very nicely taken
care of for many years.
In the early part of the year 1804, the inhabitants of
Morgan began the work of clearing this tract, with the idea of utilizing it for
the purposes designed. The minister who was first to avail himself of the
advantages embraced in the grant was the Rev. Thomas Robbins, who had
come from Connecticut, and on him was conferred the honor of inaugurating the
work of clearing, by cutting down the first tree. The first building of this,
what would be termed today, group plan, was a log structure, which was used
jointly as a schoolhouse during the week days and as a church on Sundays and
such evenings as the class meetings were held.
The means of access to Morgan Township by those who
emigrated from the East was a turnpike road that was built from Ashtabula Harbor
to the south, a part of which thoroughfare was the one formerly mentioned as
having been constructed by T. R. Hawley, from Austinburg to Trumbull County. The
southern terminus, for some years, was Gustavus. Eventually it was extended
through to the southern counties. During the early years following the
settlement of Morgan, other roads were constructed, giving access to all
neighboring settlements, and connecting with thoroughfares through adjoining
townships. The evolution of highways in this county, from the installation of
the "Old Salt Road" up to the present day, is made the subject for an
interesting article in another part of this work.
Stephen Knowlton erected the first frame house
in Morgan Township, in 1811. The first resident physician was Dr. Isaac Weed,
who settled there in 1818. The first cheese factory was put up by B. C.
Randall, in 1867, and during the year 1870 Harrington & Randall
established a factory that had an average annual output of 240,000 pounds of
cheese. Next in line came the introduction of a butter factory, erected by a
Mr. Dean, and that was later consolidated with the big cheese factory.
The tanning industry was early inducted into the
industrial activities of the town, and became the leading industry for many
years. The first establishment of this nature was that of Joseph Ferry,
in 1821. In 1831 G. W. Quigley erected a like institution. Covell &
Son were the next to branch out in that business, installing a plant in
1843, and Baldwin & Sons added another tannery to the list in 1849. All
these establishments did a thriving business, and had their source of supply
near at hand, so there was no transportation problem to be considered in
connection with, obtaining the raw material. Ashtabula County was for many years
acknowledged as the largest dairy county in the State of Ohio, and its bovine
population ran from 35,000 to 50,000 head.
The town had other industrial plants that figured
largely in its prosperity and growth. Roger and Lauren Foot built a
carding and cloth dressing factory in 1831, which was purchased in 1850 by the
Farmer Company, which added machinery for manufacturing woolen goods. Among
further industries of subsequent years were carriage shops, foundries, planing
mills, cheese box factories, basket factories, saw mills, grist mills and other
Morgan was organized as a township in 1819, and in 1849
the village of Rock Creek was regularly incorporated by an act of the State
Legislature, through the efforts of Representative N. L. Chaffee. The
name was taken from the river running through the township from northeast to
southwest, which had been named Rock Creek. The Grand River cuts into the
northwestern corner of the township.
Roger Foot's first venture in business, after
coming to Rock Creek, was the purchase from Ambrose Humphrey of the
latter's saw mill and grist mill, to which he made improvements and additions,
enlarging the last named department. In the course of time so much of the county
was cleared and devoted to raising of wheat, that it became a drug on the local
market, and this situation decided Mr. Foot to branch out, by introducing
flour making machinery in his establishment. This necessitated the purchase of
new buhr stones and new bolting-cloth, to purchase which he sent his son, who
had entered the business with him, to the East. The junior member was unable to
find suitable stones in Buffalo, so journeyed on to Rochester, where the result
was the same. He returned and the necessary equipment was made and installed
right at home, and the quality of flour turned out at this plant was such as to
create a wide demand, as it became known. They supplied not only the immediate
surrounding territory, but for years sent their product to the New York market,
where it ranked with the best.
Rock Creek had its quota of lodges, several nearby
towns contributing to the membership of the different orders. The Masonic Lodge
was chartered in 1856, and in 1864 built its own home rooms, occupying the
third story of one of the Main street business blocks. This building was
destroyed two years later by fire, and when it was rebuilt the following year,
the Masons occupied their original position in the new block. Soon after
occupying their new quarters, a Royal Arch chapter was instituted, in 1867. Rock
Creek Lodge No. 254, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was instituted June 12,
1854; Morgan Grange No. 1301, P. of H., in February, 1877.
The "Temperance League" was organized in 1874, which
was later merged into the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
In 1877 a branch of the Young Men's Christian
Association was added to the town societies.
The Disciple Church was organized in the town in 1874.
When Spencer Harvey found an abundance of flint
arrowheads and other implements on his farm, in 1852, it gave rise to the idea
that at some remote time that had been the scene of a battle between Indian
The construction of a plank road from Rock Creek to
Painesville gave the town a big impetus, as it brought much additional trade to
the merchants and made it much easier for them to obtain their merchandise
In the summer of 1924 Rock Creek received its first
modern fire-fighting apparatus, a chemical auto truck, together with hose and
ladders. It was delivered a few days too late to be of service at a fire which
burned the principal business block of the village, and other buildings, causing
a loss of $100,000.
At a "Home-Coming" held in Rock Creek on Labor Day,
1924, the big feature of the program of entertainment was the formal dedication
of a new $160,000 school building.
Teachers' Institute.—The first Teachers' Institute held
in Ashtabula County was convened at Rock Creek from Nov. 1 to 6, 1852. Besides
the faculty, there were in attendance over 80 teachers of the county schools.