History of
Ashtabula Co., Ohio

SOURCE: History of Ashtabula County, Ohio
Large, Moina W.
Topeka :: Historical Pub. Co.,, 1924, 1132 pgs.

Morgan Township



     Morgan, 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, "some nerve".
     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 concerns.
     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 tribes.
     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 stock.
     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.

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