Top - History - A Brief History of Logan County, Ohio
K. Todd McCormick
The more than 42,000 citizens of Logan County and the thousands of tourists who visit here every year enjoy one of the most diverse counties in Ohio. Its water-carved caverns, beautiful hills and valleys, fertile farmland, man-made lake, various industries, and rich history makes Logan County a valuable asset to Ohio.
The topography and geology of Logan County is unique and spectacular. Campbell Hill, located two miles east of Bellefontaine, is the highest point in Ohio at 1,549 feet above sea level. Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a joint-vocational school, is currently at this site. 'The 664th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron was stationed on Campbell Hill in the 1950's. The 664th A.C.&W. monitored the skies with a radar system set up on the peak of Ohio.
Logan County also contains some of Ohio's most magnificent caverns. Ohio Caverns, located three miles east of West Liberty, are the state's largest and most colorful caverns. Over time underground rivers and dripping water formed many large and beautiful mineral deposit formations called stalactites (formations hanging from the ceiling) and stalagmites (formations built on the floor). Zane Caverns,, near Zanesfield', offers other natural wonders. Rare cave pearl formations are found in these caverns. Zane Caverns are now owned by the Shawnee Remnant Band. The site includes the Shawnee & Woodland Native American Museum.
Two of Ohio's major rivers begin in Logan County. A small stream flows into the waters of Indian Ike from the east and exits the lake in the south.This small stream becomes the Great Miami River. The hills of central Logan County provide the waters for the Mad River. The Mad River flows into the Great Miami River in Dayton, Ohio about 60 miles from where they begin. Both of these rivers and their valleys have been important to Ohio's inhabitants for housing, transportation, food, and water.
Indian Lake is in the northwest corner of Logan County. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in Ohio. In 185O the commissioners of' the Miami-Erie Canal voted to build several lakes or reservoirs in west-central Ohio to feed or supply water to the canals. The Lewistown Reservoir (the original name of Indian Lake) was built between 1851 - 1857, It covered several thousands acres of woods, swamps, and six small natural lakes, including one called Indian Lake. Consequently, many trees and islands (high ground) poked through the surface. This made fishing great but boating dangerous. Over the next several decades the lake was cleaned up by dredging it, When the lake was frozen in the winter men went out onto the ice and cut the tops of trees that were above the surface. The reservoir continued to feed the canals until 1896 when the canals ceased to be used on regular basis.
In 1898 the state of Ohio made the Lewistown Reservoir into a state park and renamed it Indian Lake. 'The new Indian Lake State Park became a popular vacation place.The surrounding towns of Russells Point and Lakeview, as well as some residents of the islands, built hotels, restaurants, and marinas to accommodate all of the tourists. Fishing, boating, and swimming became popular recreational activities for the lake's visitors and residents. During the winter season people went ice fishing and ice skating.
In the mid-1920s S.L. Wilgus and his son built a boardwalk and roller coaster in Russells Point. Over the years it grew into a popular amusement park. People from all over the county , region, state, and Midwest came to the park. The park closed in the early 1970's due to its run down condition and competition from larger amusement parks.
Logan County has a long history of people living in it. Artifacts dating from the Archaic Indians (8000 B.C. - 1000 B.C.) have been found in the county. Artifacts have also been found of the prehistoric Indians who followed the Archaic.These people included the Adena (800 B.C.-300 A.D.), the Hopewell (100 B.C.-600 A.D.), and the Fort Ancient (800 A..D.-1300 A.D.). These artifacts, such as spear points', arrow points, scrapers, knives and other tools show that people have lived, or at least hunted, in Logan County for 3000 years.'they may have been here even earlier. Paleo-Indians (13,000 B.C.-IOOO B.C.) may have also hunted on these lands. A tooth from a mastodon, an important animal to the Paleo-Indians, was found near West Liberty.
Many historic American Indians called Logan County home. This area was in the traditional homelands of the Miami. However, they probably shared this land with other tribes as a communal hunting ground that stretched from southwestern Ohio through Kentucky to Tennessee. The Miami, Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Mingo, Seneca, Cherokee, and many other tribes hunted on this large tract of land.
The first known villages appeared in Logan County during the.e 1760's and 1770's. There were anywhere from 12 to 15 Indian towns here. Most of these villages belonged to the Shawnee Nation. 'The Shawnees were forced by the encroachment of whites to move from their villages in southern Ohio to newer sites in Clark and Greene counties, and later into Miami, Champaign, Auglaize, and Logan counties. The Shawnees built several villages along the Mad River called the Mac-a-cheek towns. These included Moluntha's Town (near present-day West Liberty), named after the principal chief of the Maykujay sept of the Shawnee tribe, and Wapatomica (near present-day,- Zanesfield), the capitol of the Shawnee nation at this time. Other villages included Blue Jacket's Town (Bellefontaine), Lewis' Town (Lewistown), Old Town (near DeGraff), Stony Creek (near DeGraff), Reed's Town (east of Bellefontaine), and Pigeon, Town (northwest of West Liberty).
Other tribes also lived in Logan County,. The Wyandot had several villages including Zane's Town (Zanesfield) and Solomon's -Town (north of Huntsville). Bokengehelas' Town (northwest of Bellefontaine was a major village of the Delaware.The Mingo, Seneca, and Cherokee also lived in villages in Logan County. McKee's Town (south of Bellefontaine) was the home Alexander McKee, a British Indian agent and trader. Most of the tribes in the county and surrounding areas went to McKee's trading post to get the goods they needed like weapons, blankets, cooking utensils, and clothes.
In the fall of 1786 General Benjamin Logan led a force of U.S. soldiers and mounted Kentucky militia against the Mac-a-cheek towns. Most of the Shawnee men were on raids against the Kentucky forts. This left only the elderly, women, and children to defend the Indian homes. Logan's forces burned the towns and food supplies. They killed several of the Indians and captured many more. Chief Moluntha was one of the Shawnees captured. He surrendered himself and his family to Logan. The general put the Shawnee chief under the protection of guards. However, Colonel Hugh McGary broke through the Guard and murdered Moluntha with a tomahawk. Logan then had McGary arrested, The death of one of their most respected chiefs angered the Shawnees who retaliated by fighting even harder against the whites. 'The Shawnees also rebuilt many of their burnt towns on the Mad River and stayed their for another 20 to 25 years.
The Indians of the Northwest Territory, (the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin) experienced two great victories over the Americans in 1790 and 1791 under the leadership of Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee. However, in 1794 the Indian confederacy under Blue Jacket suffered a great defeat to the United States' Army led by General "Mad" Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in northwest Ohio. 'The defeat at Fallen Timbers led to the Treaty of Greenville. This treaty gave the U.S. 2/3 of Ohio. The treaty line ran through western and northern Logan County. The lands south of this line now belonged to the Americans and the land north remained in Indian hands. However, most of the Indians in Logan County continued to live south of this line for another 10 to 15 years because very few whites moved into the area.
The Treaty of Greenville was not the last treaty signed by, the Indians in Logan County and the United States. A treaty signed in 1817 placed the Indians on reservations. Many of the county's Shawnees and Seneca went to live on the Lewistown Reservation in the northwestern part of the county. The U.S. created another Shawnee reservation in present-day Auglaize County. The tribes stayed on the reservations until 1832 when a third treaty forced all Ohio Indians to leave the state. Most of them moved to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The American settlement of Ohio began in the early 19th century. Isaac Zane and James McPherson first came to the area as captives of the Wyandot and Shawnees, respectively. Tarhe-the Crane, the principal chief of the Wyandot, adopted the nine-year-old Zane after Wyandot warriors captured the boy, on a raid. Zane grew up in the Wyandot culture,, but a prisoner exchange forced him to go back to his white home in Virginia. Zane served. in the Virginia House of Burgesses (state government), but after a couple of years he decided to return to his Indian home. He came back to Logan County and married Tarhe's daughter, Myreerah. Tarhe gave Zane his village on the Mad River and the Wyandot chief moved to Solomon's Town in the north central. part of the county. The Mad River village then became known as Zane's Town. Isaac Zane became an important liaison between the Indians of Logan County and the Americans.
The Shawnees captured James McPherson when he was a young soldier in the American Army. McPherson lived with Shawnees in Logan County, briefly before he was turned over to the British. The British made him an agent for their Indian allies around Detroit. The British released McPherson after the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. After his release he went back to his home in Pennsylvania. McPherson returned to Logan County in the around 1811. He built a house northwest of Bellefontaine. In the following year the U.S. Army built a blockhouse near the McPherson. It became known as McPherson's Blockhouse. This blockhouse, like others in the county, was used as protection against the Indians. During the War of 1812 settlers and Indians friendly to the Americans stayed at McPherson's Blockhouse. McPherson acted as guide for General Hull when the army started north to fight the British and Indians. After the war McPherson built a trading post near the Lewistown Reservation. His stores provided the Indians with many of their needs.
Simon Kenton was another early settler in Logan County. Kenton ran away from his home in Virginia when he was sixteen because he mistakenly thought he killed a man in a fight. He made his way to the Middle Ground or the frontier of the Kentucky lands. Kenton quickly became an accomplished frontiersmen. The small forts and settlements in Kentucky depended on Kenton for food and protection. consequently, he roamed all over central and northern Kentucky and sometimes across the Ohio River to hunt animals and to fight Indians who greatly feared and respected his abilities.
In the fall of 1778 Kenton and Alex McIntyre, another Kentucky settler, crossed into Ohio to spy on the Shawnee village of Chalagawtha (near present-day Xenia). After Kenton and McIntyre were finished spying on the Indians they decided to steal some of the Shawnee horses as well. The two whites broke down the horses' corral and took several horses each and started back to Kentucky. However, a Shawnee party tracked the white men and horses. They killed McIntyre and captured Kenton.
Since Kenton was such a feared enemy, of the Shawnee it was decided that he should be taken to the center of the Shawnee nation at Wapatomica (in Logan County) to be executed. the Shawnees took Kenton to many of their villages enroute to Wapatomica. The Indians forced Kenton to run gauntlets at most of these towns. A gauntlet consisted of two ranks of men, women, and children armed with sticks, switches, clubs, and other weapons. The prisoner was forced to run through the rows of people as they, hit him with the weapons. Many prisoners were severely injured or even killed during a gauntlet. Kenton was made to run nine gauntlets during which he received many broken. bones and injuries. As the story goes, before Kenton ran a gauntlet at one of the Mac-a-cheek towns he fell in love with the beauty of the land. Kenton promised himself that if he escaped from the Shawnees he would return and settle on this land. Kenton. fulfilled this promise some thirty years later when he bought land near Zanesfield. Eventually several influential chiefs and British officers convinced the Shawnees to sell Kenton to the British as a prisoner of war. Kenton was taken to Detroit'. but within a few months he escaped and returned to Kentucky.
Around 1799 Kenton moved from Kentucky to the Springfield, Ohio area. He then moved to Urbana about 1810 and finally moved near Zanesfield around 1815. He lived there until his death in 1836. His family buried the body on his Farm, but in 1865 the body was removed from the farm's grave and reburied in Urbana where it remains today.
Other American settlements in present-day Logan County began around 1806. The state officially, formed the boundaries of the county in 1817 and named it after General Benjamin Logan. Many of the towns founded by these early settlers were on or near the sites of the old Indian Villages because of their ideal location near water and good farm land. Some of these towns included Bellefontaine on the site of Blue Jacket's Town, West Liberty near where Moluntha's Town stood, Zanesfield at Zane's Town., and Lewistown at the same place as the village of the Shawnee chief Captain Lewis.
The southern, southeastern, and central regions of Logan County were settled first by Americans. The villages of West Liberty, Zanesfield, and Bellefontaine were officially laid out around 1820. 'The rest of the county followed soon after, except in the northwest corner. This area remained part of the Lewistown Reservation until. 1832. Very few Americans moved there after the Indians left because the land was too swampy to farm or build homes. Settlement in this area did not begin in earnest until after the reservoir was built and much of the swampy land was covered with the lake. The population rose greatly after the state established Indian Lake State Park in 1898 and better roads and railroads reached the region from other places in the county starting in the early 20th century.
Logan County continued to grow throughout the 19th century. Most of the people in the county farmed the land. Those who did not farm, worked in the county's other businesses like flour mills, lumber mills, carriage makers, schools, banks, and taverns to name a few.
The summer of 1837 forever changed Logan County, especially Bellefontaine. In July of that year the Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad Company completed the first railroad in Bellefontaine. This marked the beginning of a long and prosperous relationship between the railroad and Logan County. Over the next hundred plus years Bellefontaine and several other county villages became more and more dependent on the railroad, while the railroad companies increasingly used Bellefontaine and these villages as integral points on their lines.
Bellefontaine benefited from the rapid growth of railroads in the United States after the Civil War. Several companies built or used the growing number of tracks in the area. Trains from the West carried raw materials and food products to the East, while trains from the East transported finished goods westward. The South and North shared a similar relationship. From all directions freight trains stopped in Logan County to load up its contributions to the American economy and food supply.
Bellefontaine truly became a major railroad town in the 1890s when the Big Four Railroad Company (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, & St-Louis) made it one of their main terminals. Bellefontaine served many important functions as a terminal. The Big Four changed both crews and engines in Bellefontaine. Consequently, many railroad workers lived in Bellefontaine or stayed in the boarding houses and hotels that specifically catered to them. The influx of these transitory workers and their many needs greatly enhanced the economy of the town. Although improved steam engines and newer diesel engines lessened the need to change engines, Bellefontaine continued to be a stop for trains to shift crews.
Bellefontaine also became a major service and repair center for the Big Four. 'l"he company built its largest roundhouse between New York and St. Louis in Bellefontaine. 'The roundhouse was used as a place for workers to repair and change engines. The roundhouse and surrounding area included a coal dock, car shops, communication stations (telegraph and later telephone), and the division headquarters of the Big Four.
By 1904, one in four people employed in Logan County, worked for the railroad. A similar ratio worked for the boarding houses, restaurants, stores, and other related businesses that served the railroad and its crews. Thus it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the railroad to the economy and livelihood of this county. The dominance as an employer and economic source continued through the 1950s with the New York Central system, formerly the Big Four, as the largest railroad company in Bellefontaine.
The railroad brought more than just jobs to Logan County it brought people. Hundreds of men came to Bellefontaine to work at the roundhouse and other jobs dealing with the railroad. Many of these men and their families settled in the area. This increased the county's population greatly.
Thousands of the other people came through Bellefontaine and the county on numerous passenger trains. Several interurban railroads, which connected major cities in Ohio and the Midwest, also brought people to the area. However, these electric powered trains could not keep up with the competition from the automobile. The last interurban passenger train came through Bellefontaine in November of 1937. The New York Central's passenger trains held out longer with limited runs up until 1971, but ultimately the car, air travel and the federally, supported AMTRAK passenger train proved to be too much competition for the New York Central Railway
The railroad changed the society and culture of Logan County. Trains brought people from all over the U.S. into the county. It also brought news from the state, country, and world. Many people from the county, gathered at the various train depots to see all of the passengers and to hear the news.
Bellefontaine reached its peak as a railroad town in the 1940s and 1950s. However, its days as a railroad town would slowly come to an end. The arrival of the more efficient diesel engines in the late 1950s and early 1960s lessened the importance of the roundhouse.This new type of engine, the emergence of newer means of personal travel, and semi-truck freight transport greatly decreased railroad traffic through Bellefontaine. The roundhouse closed its doors in 1980 and on May 18, 1983, Conrail, the latest in a long line of railroad companies, moved its terminal from Bellefontaine to Crestview, Ohio. This ended crew changes in Bellefontaine and its importance as a railroad town.
Logan County, played an important part in another kind of railroad. The Underground Railroad had several stations in the county in 1830s - 1850s. The Underground Railroad was a secret and illegal system for slaves to escape the South by hiding in the homes and farms of Northern people who wanted to help them get out of slavery. 'the following are some of the people of Logan County who participated in the Underground Railroad.
Henry Pickrell built a house on County Road 28 north of Pickrell Town. The house had four secret, hiding places behind the walls and one in the cellar. Pickrell's house served as the next stop for slaves coming from another site in Champaign County or from West Liberty. The route from West Liberty did not have a pilot (someone who guided the slaves from one site to another). Instead the slaves followed a path marked by nicks in trees that told them which way to go. Most escaping slaves that Pickrell and his son, a pilot, helped went from the Pickrell home to another stop in Rushsylvania.
William Stephenson used his home just east of Rushsylvania as a stop on the Underground Railroad. This house had a secret door to a basement underneath the front of the house. Slaves also hid in an upstairs room, underneath a rock bridge on the property, and in a cave in the farm's rock quarry. Slaves went from Stephenson's home to stops in Kenton, Sandusky, or Northwood.
Isaac Patterson operated a station in a cave near Northwood. Many times runaways slaves stayed here for several days or even weeks until the authorities quit looking for them. Slaves had to use the password "Boston" to get in the cave. The next stop for the railroad was in Kenton. Many times students from the nearby Geneva College guided the runaways to Kenton.
James Torrence also lived in Northwood. He shipped grain and feathers north to Sandusky. Sometimes he hid runaways in his wagons to help them get farther north.
Joseph Aiken of Northwood sheltered slaves in his house and his brother William acted as a pilot.
There were several other people in Logan County who took active roIes on the underground Railroad, including the Piatts of West Liberty. However, there were probably other people in Logan County who took part in the Underground Railroad that we do not know about. Since it was a secret system there are only, a few written records about its activities. Historians can only study the system by using oral histories passed down from generation to generation. Yet there is no doubt that Logan County played an important role in helping many slaves escape to Canada.
Logan County sent its share of soldiers to fight for the Union during the Civil War. Several volunteer companies were formed by men in the county.
Logan County had many important industries besides the railroad in the 20th century. The A.J. Miller Company began in 1853 by making horse carriages and then started making cars in the early part of this century. However, they could not compete with the larger car makers so they specialized in hearses and ambulances. Over the years the Miller hearses became known and used throughout the world. They moved from Bellefontaine in 1960 and combined with, the Meteor Company in Piqua, Ohio. The company then became known as Miller-Meteor.
Many other industries made Logan County their home. Some of these included Westinghouse, Rockwell lnternational, Merchant Industries, and Superfoods Inc. Two of the more recent employers in the area are the Transportation Research Center (TRC) and Honda of America. TRC was built near East Liberty in 1966. It is one of the world's largest test centers for all forms of transportation. Honda bought TRC in the mid -1980s. Honda of America built a large plant in between Bellefontaine and Marysville in Union County in 1979. Over the last twenty years the main plant and its numerous supply and satellite companies have become one of the area's largest employers.
Despite all of these different industries and businesses in Logan County over the years, agriculture still remains as a principal part of tile county's economy and culture.
Logan County has many unique sites.These include two special streets in Bellefontaine. The first concrete street in America was built in Bellefontaine in 1891. George Bartholomew of the Portland Cement Co. in Marl City, 8 miles northeast of Bellefontaine, experimented with a new process of making concrete. Bartholomew's new process produced a concrete that withstood the wear and tear of horse and carriages, and remained fairly cheap to make. In 1891 the city of Bellefontaine permitted Bartholomew to pave a small section of a street around the Courthouse. Within two years Bartholomew's concrete was used to pave all of the streets surrounding the Court Square. Court Street is still paved with Bartholomew's concrete. The city closed Court Street in 1991 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of America's first concrete street, but they reopened it in 1998 for limited traffic.
Another unique street is found in Bellefontaine. McKinley Street just west of downtown is considered the shortest street in America. It is only about 30 feet long.
Logan County has several historic houses. Two of the more magnificent homes are the Piatt Castles in the Mac-a-cheek valley near West Liberty. In 1864 General Abram Sanders Piatt built Castle Mac-a-cheek in the architectural style of a Norman-French Chateau. The home took seven Years to build. All the.materials used for the House came from the Piatt property except for the glass and slate roof.
The home contains much of its original furnishings including some that belonged to General Piatt's ancestors who first came to America in the late 17th century. The castle also has a collection of American lndian artifacts, Piatt family, military weapons, books, paintings, and much more.
General Piatt served as an officer in both the Mexican War and the Civil War. He used his own motley to clothe his men when. the government could not. He was also a farmer, poet, collector of books, and a social and political leader of Logan County.
Colonel Donn Piatt, Abram's brother, built Castle Mac-a-chee on the family land in the 1860s and 187Os. The house began as a modest Swiss chalet when Piatt had it built during the Civil War, but in 1870s he expanded into a Flemish Chateau by wrapping the house with limestone. Like the older Piatt home, Castle Mac-a-chee, was extravagantly decorated with fine art and wood work.
Colonel Piatt served in the Civil War. He was also a renowned poet, diplomat, editor, and social critic. He hosted numerous parties at Castle Mac-a-chee with many famous and influential guests in attendance. Both castles are now opened to the public for tours.