A nod and wink to Logan County history

ReubenMees Fall2016


History is a wonderful thing.

It winks its eye all around us — a secret signal that only those who know its secrets can see.

Having lived the majority of my life in Logan County, I’ve come to uncover some of those secrets and have even enjoyed telling tales to friends from out of the area or individuals blissfully unaware of the history.

I think I was in fourth grade — or maybe it was James Hiett’s seventh-grade Ohio history class — that I first heard the tale of the founding of Bellefontaine. The stories of Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket, which at the time involved being captured and forced to run a gauntlet, excited my boyish imagination.

It was Blue Jacket’s cabin and the beautiful spring which gave rise to the city we now call our county seat and it was a French-speaking Canadian girl who first coined the name Bellefontaine, I would tell my friends.

But what I’ve learned over the years is that Logan County is a much larger place than I first imagined and I’ve been surrounded by these wonderful tales for far longer than I have realized.

Spending Sunday afternoons in my youth playing cowboys and Indians on a farm along the Stony Creek outside of DeGraff, I never knew how close I was to the spot where pioneers Simon Kenton, Col. William Ward and Col. James McPherson came upon a secret council of the real life Indian chief Tecumseh.

The trio of settlers parlayed with the war chief, who had amassed a force of 700 braves ready to go to war. That battle was averted although it would not be the end of the strife between the Indians and white men in the area.

I remember in my youth visiting my grandmother on the west side of Bellefontaine when the railroad was still kind of around. Diesels had ruled the rails since well before I was born and the Roundhouse was mostly a thing of the past, but grandma Brewer’s house was adjacent to an old warehouse that was still in use. My brother, cousins and I, along with some other neighborhood urchins, would occasionally sneak onto railroad property and inevitably find some mischief to get into along the tracks we would explore on Saturday afternoons.

Or sneaking through the viaducts of Possum Run Creek, along the banks of which Indians would congregate in the earliest days of our city’s history.

Before last year, however, I never really knew much about Logan County’s earliest years. So this research project for the Logan County Bicentennial edition has been a rewarding and informative experience.

The first fact I learned was that today, March 1, 2018, is the bicentennial anniversary of the founding of Logan County.

It was a date set by the Ohio legislature — a date which also coincides with Ohio’s official birthday although the state is 15 years older.

I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a lot of other fun facts I will be able to share with friends.

For example, did you know Logan County’s first doctor (of western medicine) was a woman? Or that Logan County’s first white woman was a doctor? Phebe Haines Sharp founded the first permanent settlement in Logan County near Middleburg with her husband Job Sharp and family. The peaceful Quaker community co-existed with Indians in the area and Mrs. Sharp would tend to the needs of the natives as well as members of the white community.

As part of my recent research, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the remnants of the cement production facility at Marl City south of Rushsylvania and visit the ancestral home of the earliest Piatts outside West Liberty — stories I will share with readers in future editions.

There are countless other tales to be told in the annals of Logan County history and I encourage fledgling historians to explore for themselves. Find something that catches your fancy and find out a little more. If you’re so inclined, share it with our staff and we may be able to get the story into print for the rest of Logan County to appreciate.

Go check out the wealth of resources at the Logan County History Center. Although the museum is entirely devoted to Logan County history, the staff — including Curator Todd McCormick, administrator Toni McPherson and John McPherson, whose title as maintenance man belies his wealth of historical knowledge — have picked out 200 of their favorite artifacts and 200 photos to display beginning April 15.

I would be remiss to not thank these three individuals and others at the History Center for the invaluable role they have played in recent weeks helping me and the rest of the Examiner staff put together the Bicentennial edition we are publishing today.

Regardless, there will be ample opportunities in the next few months to explore history on your own terms as various communities host their own historically significant events to commemorate the bicentennial.

Centennial celebrations only come around once in a lifetime. Don’t let this one wink its way into history without discovering a secret or two.

Reuben Mees is an Examiner staff writer who enjoys opportunities this work presents to explore the rich local heritage citizens of Logan County enjoy. He can be reached at rjmees@examiner.org.