Conneaut History & Genealogy - Ashtabula Co., Ohio

History of
Ashtabula Co., Ohio

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

Saybrook Township



     The township now Saybrook, which borders the shore of Lake Erie between Ashtabula and Geneva, was regularly organized in 1816 under the name of Wrightsburg, though it had previously been designated as Mathertown. This section had been a part of Austinburg. In 1827 the name was changed to Saybrook. The original officers of the township were named at an election held at the home of Benjamin Sweet, on the first Monday in April, 1816, and were as follows: Joel Owen, Samuel Wright and Thomas Benham, trustees; Benjamin Sweet and Eli Rood, overseers of the poor; George Webster and Hubbard Tyler, fence viewers; Zadoc Brown, lister; Levi Amsden, appraiser of property; Angell Whipple, Abraham Amsden, Samuel Benham, Levi Beckwith, Jason Norton and Phineas Pierce, supervisors; Thomas Stephens, constable; Joel Owens, treasurer. Benjamin Sweet was appointed justice of the peace in 1819.
     The name Mathertown was taken from one of the original owners, Samuel Mather, who, together with William Hart, obtained the land from the Connecticut Land Company, of which they were members. Hart sold his share of the property to Josiah Wright, who in turn parceled it out to individual home seekers as they desired, and many of the latter suffered severe losses, which dampened their ardor for the new West, some of the disappointed ones returning to the eastern states while others tried their luck in other localities. This misfortune resulted from the death of Mr. Wright occurring before he had secured his title to the land, and as Hart held a mortgage he reclaimed the property and those who had invested had to stand a loss.
     Prior to 1816 Wrightsburg had been a part of Austinburg, of which township it had constituted more than one-half. The territory of Saybrook embraces that traversed by the North and South ridges, which are mentioned elsewhere. The North ridge runs across the center and the South ridge a mile south of and parallel with the North. These ridges afford splendid farming and many of the early comers located thereon, but the principal settlements consisted of Saybrook Corners, Saybrook Station, Munson Hill and that part of the township adjacent to the Ashtabula town line near the lake. Saybrook Corners is on the North Ridge a mile west of the Center road, which extends through the center of the township, southward from the Lake road, and continues straight through to Trumbull County. Saybrook Station is a few hundred rods north of the Corners, on the line of the New York Central tracks. In the early days of the railroad this was quite an active settlement, but as the railroad company's succeeding schedules kept cutting off train stops at Saybrook Station and the business consequently left the hotel and stores thereabouts, the mercantile places gradually disappeared until now but a few residences remain in that immediate vicinity. The Corners still has its churches, high school, stores and other establishments that give life to the small town. Munson Hill is at the crest of the highest point in the township, the highway at that place being over 200 feet above the lake level. There was at one time quite a colony at this point, but now it is but a farm district.
     The township is well supplied with water courses, having a small brook running through the southwest corner: Indian Creek, which rises in the southeastern part and, after admitting several tributaries, passes out near the northwestern corner, and Red Brook, in the northeastern part. Then there are many springs throughout the township.
     While this township was near lake landings and was traversed more or less by emigrants of the earliest years, its attractions as a place for settlement did not appeal to any one for a whole decade after the white man had invaded this section. It was in 1810 that the first settler came to this township and located. His name was George Webster and he was accompanied by his mother, the father and husband being dead. Webster built a cabin in the southwestern part of the township, where he prepared to make a clearing. The coming of this little family into the new, unbroken country was no small undertaking for the mother, for she was staking her all on George, who was at that time but fifteen years of age. But he was sturdy, ambitious and fearless, as had been demonstrated by his experiences on the trip out from the East. Joel Blakeslee paid the following tribute to Webster in an entry in his personal writings made in 1855, on early days of this section: "Mr. Webster arrived in the county in the year 1804. He was then but 15 years of age. The journey was accomplished with two teams, one of horses and the other of oxen, attached to a stout wagon. They came by way of Cooperstown, Utica, Cayuga, Batavia and Buffalo. Arriving here, they at the last named place were told that there was no settlement west, until they reached Max, at Cattaraugus. They were to keep to the beach some eight miles and a marked road the rest of the way. Keeping to the beach as directed, they turned off into the woods, traveled all night and, not finding any sign of a habitation, encamped in the dense forest. The next morning they proceeded until about 10 o'clock, when they arrived at a log cabin. This proved to be the dwelling of a man named Cummings, who informed them that they had driven in directly an opposite direction from the point intended and advised them to return direct to the lake shore. This they accordingly did, hiring Cummings to accompany them as guide. At the end of the third day they reached the shore of the lake, but a few miles in advance of where they had left it. On arriving at Ashtabula Creek, they found that the water was high, and not knowing its depth, of course dared not attempt to ford. There was no house in sight. While considering what course to pursue, they discovered a woman paddling down the creek in a canoe. She proved to be Mrs. Beckwith, widow of George Beckwith, who perished in the snow. She assisted them in crossing the stream, leading the horses by the side of the canoe; the cattle were obliged to swim. Bed-cords were attached together and attached to the wagon tongue, the other end carried across and the team hitched on, and the wagon floated across. Doubling the rope, as it struck the sand, they soon drew the wagon ashore. Attaching the teams, as they were about starting, the Hon. Matthew Hubbard rode up. The sight of a white person was a glad one to the family. The land upon which they settled in Saybrook was purchased of T. R. Hawley, he having received it of the proprietors in payment for services as surveyor. At the raising of their cabin, the settlers were present from Geneva, Harpersfield, Austinburg and Ashtabula."
     Among the early comers to Saybrook were Reuben Smith, Joseph Hotchkiss, Zadock Brown, Stephen Herriman, Oliver Steward, Josiah, Jesse and Samuel Wright, Jesse Blackington, A. Whipple, Thomas Stevens, Theodore Blynn, Solomon Bates, Jarvis Harris, Charles Pratt, Amasa Tyler, Chandler Williams, Benjamin Sweet, Asa Gillett, Levi Beckwith, Captain Savage, Abel Edwards and others. Samuel Wright erected the first frame house, at a point on the South Ridge, in 1818. Wright and Blackington built a water-power saw mill on Indian Creek, at an early date, and Asa Gillette, Jr., a steam mill, somewhat later. In 1815 a schoolhouse was built on the South Ridge.
     The Methodist Church was organized in 1816, and meetings were held at homes of members until 1835, when the society put up a church building, which was located on the North Ridge, near the "Corners". This was used for a school and other public assemblages and was sold and converted into a residence in 1849, when the Methodists erected a church for their own exclusive use. The Congregational Church was built about a year later.
     Hubbard Tyler was the first man to launch in the mercantile business in the township, he having opened a general store in 1828. Saybrook's first public house was erected for and conducted by Benjamin Sweet, in 1813. A short time after that Nathan Williams opened a tavern. Such houses were very common along the ridge roads in the stage coach days, before the railroad came through this section.
     The first birth of a white child in Saybrook brought a son to Mr. and Mrs. Zadock Brown. The first death of a white person was tragic in nature, a little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Wright being burned to death.
     Owing probably to its close proximity to Ashtabula and Geneva, Saybrook never received any impetus from manufacturing concerns. It had its cheese factory, and, of late years, Wright's basket factory has made itself felt in the commercial fruit trade. F. C. Gerald's wholesale meat headquarters in Saybrook have done an extensive business during the past 20 years or more.
     A postoffice was established in the town in 1816, with A. Whipple as postmaster. Prior to that time the carrier who traversed that route from east to west had distributed the mail as he went along, and there was no stated place where it might be left for those who lived off the route, except as each family directed. Daily mail service was established through Saybrook in 1821. The South Ridge was the original route of travel, the North Ridge road not having been laid out till 1815.
     A schoolhouse served the town as a place for holding elections and other public meetings until 1871, when a town hall was erected near the "Corners".
     In the present period any town that lies along the lake shore, to insure its full quota of attractions, must have its township park. Saybrook was one of the first to establish a free recreation spot of this nature, and it has a spacious and attractive park on the bank of the lake, with bathhouses, pier, eating pavilion, ball ground, refreshment stand and other conveniences, and it is one of the popular outing spots along the lake. A short distance east of the township park is Red Brook, where a summer colony was started nearly a half century ago. About 40 years back a company was organized and purchased a section of lake frontage, platted it and sold lots, each lot owner becoming a shareholder in the company. There are today about 30 cottages, a dancing pavilion, tennis court, pier, electric lights, water service and all the comforts of home for those who spend their summers there. Most of the people own their own cottages and occupy them during the heated season, and therefore the colony is much like a big family party. This condition prevails all along the shore, and Saybrook's lake front is a scene of lively activity in the summer months.
     A short distance east of Red Brook is the Ashtabula Country Club's new home and golf links, the clubhouse to be opened this year for its first season. Several members of the club have purchased lake-front property and built some of the finest homes in this section thereon.
     Adjoining Red Brook on the west is Hallwood, one of the newest allotments to be opened, and cottages are rapidly being built therein. Next west is a considerable colony, Billow Beach, which started a few years ago with a couple of cottages and has assumed the proportions of a considerable settlement. A little farther west is East Geneva-on-the-Lake and a short distance west of the township park is Nineveh Beach, boasting several cottages. Thus it may be seen that Saybrook's lake front is a lively place in the summer seasons.
     The eastern part of Saybrook Township, adjacent to Ashtabula City and Harbor, embraces several thousand people in its population and includes Windermere, a new community section in the vicinity of the new car shops of the New York Central Railway, which are also in Saybrook, and which furnish livelihood for several hundred families. This shop plant is now but half of its contemplated size and is expected, in the near future, to be an immense establishment. There are also, in the eastern part, some of the largest greenhouse plants in the country, where are raised thousands of car loads of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables, and also immense quantities of mushrooms, that supply the markets of New York, Chicago and other large cities.
     First Volunteer.—Among the claims that Saybrook makes is the proud one that one of her boys was the first man to enlist for service in the Civil War, which claim has been broadcasted and has never been questioned.
     One of the old-time residents of that township was Rodney Viets, one of the most radical abolitionists in this section (and that was saying a great deal). He was very active in connection with the transportation activities of the famous "Underground Railway", by which runaway slaves from the South were smuggled to the lake and across to Canada.
Young Frank Viets, just attaining his majority at the time that the Civil War was about to break out, inherited much of his father's spirit, and was deeply interested in the cause of freedom. He often expressed a wish that he could be useful in some manner in the suppression of slavery, and when he learned that Captain Kenney was to organize a battery in Geneva, he decided that it was time for him to move. One evening he talked the matter over with his father and it was agreed that the young man should go and enlist. Accordingly, next morning, he went to Geneva, hunted up Henry Munger, who was a friend of the Viets family, and the two went together to the office of Captain Kenney, where young Viets was regularly enlisted as a United States soldier. He was back home in time for dinner, and upon arriving learned that President Lincoln had the night before issued the proclamation calling for 75,000 troops for three months' service. He joined the Geneva battery and was with them throughout their campaign. He was the lead rider of the three teams hauling the Geneva gun. After the return of the battery, when the new one was organized, Viets was one of the first to signify his desire to become a member. His service gained for him advancement, and Maj. Frank Viets is still living in a far Western state.

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