Stories of Guernsey County by Wm. Wolfe Pages 1001-1011
VALLEY was the last township of the county to be formed. The most of the territory now included within its boundaries was a part of Seneca township when the county was organized in 1810. It afterwards became a part of Buffalo when that township was set off from Seneca by the county commissioners on March 25, 1815, after the commissioners had received a petition for a new political unit that was signed by William Thompson and others.
The Buffalo township then formed was divided in 1819 and Spencer was set off from the west end of it.
When authority was given by the state legislature, in 1851, for the formation of Noble county from territory to be detached from Guernsey and other counties, there was a shifting of township lines in the southern part of Guernsey county. In December, 1852, the commissioners set off a new township from Jackson and Spencer, which they named Valley.
Valley township contains twenty-two sections of land. All excepting six sections in the north, which belong to the Military district, are included in what is known as the Congress lands. From east to west the township’s longest distance is six and one-half miles; from north to south its shortest distance is only three miles.
Two creeks, Seneca from the east and Buffalo from the southwest, join near the center of the township. The stream formed by the merging of their waters flows north as Wills creek. The broad valleys doubtless suggested the township name.
Underlaid with Coal.—The entire township is underlaid with the No. 7 vein of coal. The depth at which it is reached in the township varies from sixty to one hundred fifty feet. Millions of tons of coal have been mined in Valley township, the output having been exceeded by no other township in the county, with the possible exception of Jackson. The greatest of the many mines opened in Valley was Walhonding.
The coal industry was not important in the township before the latter 1870’s, because there were no facilities for transportation. When the Marietta and Pittsburgh (later called the Cleveland and Marietta, but now the Pennsylvania) Railroad was proposed in 1873, Valley township citizens were elated and subscribed for stock in the amount of 421,000. this road crosses the township from south to north, a distance of only three miles, but it affords an outlet for the coal.
Better service was afforded the mining interests by the Eastern Ohio Railroad, built across the township from northeast to southwest in the early 80’s. While there are but seven miles of the main road in the township, several miles of branch lines extend to the various mines.
Among the mines in the township, some of which were “worked out” long ago, are Imperial, Puritan, Hartford, Cisco, Opperman, Walhonding, Black Diamond, maple Leaf and Banner. Walhonding No. 2, owned by the Cambridge Collieries Company, has been one of the most productive mines ever worked in the county.
Early Settlers.—Records to show who the very first settlers of the present Valley township were are lacking. Congress lands were sold at Marietta. It is reasonable to believe that the Valley pioneers came from that direction. The Marietta road which was merely a blazed trail through the woods was the only thoroughfare. It is known that some of the settlers of the township entered by that route. Among the early family names are Secrest, Spaid, Robins, Dyson, Trenner, Dickerson and Fishel.
Secrest and Spaid are probably the best known family names of Valley township. Henry and John Secrest came from Virginia at the time the War of 1812 was being fought. Henry enlisted and started to the front, but when he reached Zanesville he found that the war had ended. George Spaid, also a Virginian, came in 1819. As the early Secrest and Spaid families were related by marriage, and have numerous descendants, their story is one for the genealogist.
John Robins came to America from the Island of Guernsey in 1807 and located in what is now Valley township in 1810. He entered eighty acres of land which, by industry and frugality, he increased to 800. He also owned 400 acres south of Cambridge. It was largely through his efforts that the Bethel Methodist Episcopal church was organized. He donated land for the Bethel church cemetery in which he was buried in 1840.
Henry Trenner came about the year 1812. Accompanying him was his father, a native of Germany. As a Hessian soldier, the older Trenner came with the British army to fight the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Upon reaching this country he deserted the British, joined the American forces, and fought for independence, losing part of his foot in one of the battles. He was buried in Valley township.
Growth of Population.—As no decennial census prior to 1860 shows the population of Valley township within its present boundaries (an important boundary change having been made in 1851), we start with 1860, in which the population was 1048; in 1870, 834; in 1880, 999; in 1890, 1018; in 1900, 3002; in 1910, 4371; in 1920, 4785; in 1930, 3462. Of the people living in the township in 1930, one was a colored person; 1290 were of foreign-born parentage, and 418 were born in foreign countries. Only 704, or about 20 per cent of the population, lived on farms.
The Clay Pike.—For many years after the township was settled, the old Clay pike, which crosses the township from east to west, was its main thoroughfare. The pioneer found that when the forest was cleared away, the new ground was suitable for raising tobacco. Much was produced, packed in hogsheads and hauled to Wheeling over the Clay pike. From Wheeling it was taken to Baltimore.
Route No. 21, a federal highway extending from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina, crosses the township from north to south. In 1910 an interurban railway that had been built between Cambridge and Byesville was extended to Pleasant City. For the next seventeen years cars were run regularly, affording excellent transportation facilities to the people of Valley township. With the improvement of the federal highway came bus and truck service with which the “interurban” could not compete, and in 1927 the line was abandoned.
Pleasant City.—From an article written in 1904 by A. T. Secrest, local historian, we have gathered some early history of Pleasant City.
The earliest settlers in the community were the James Albin family who lived just north of town, and the Jackson family who lived just south. Others soon arrived, amongst whom were the Robins, Fishels, Clarks, Fryes, Cales, Trenners, Secrests, Spaids and Dysons. The most of these came from Virginia and were related.
The first school was held in a cabin near the Hopewell cemetery about one mile north of town. A log school building was later erected at the forks of the road, and in this pioneer institution of learning the children of two or three generations were taught. There were many of them, too, for nearly every family was composed of from ten to fifteen members.
Point Pleasant (the original name of Pleasant City) was laid out by Joseph Dyson on August 29, 1836. Lots four rods wide by ten rods deep were surveyed along Main street, which was only a country road straightened and widened. For many years the lots were very cheap, as there was but little in the town to attract citizens to it.
‘Squire Dyson named his town Point Pleasant, presumably because a hill, then owned by him, abruptly protruded its shoulder into the valley, and because he thought it a pleasant community in which to live. Dyson kept the first store in Point Pleasant.
Three industries of the town in early days were a tannery, a mill and a woolen factory. The mill was first run by water power, later by both water and steam. Farmers came from many miles away, bringing their wool to be spun into yarn or woven into cloth and blankets.
One of the town’s most enterprising citizens of early days was Harrison Secrest. He owned and operated the woolen factory, burnt brick and built the first brick house in Point Pleasant, conducted a store, built the first frame schoolhouse in the town—did more, perhaps, for the material advancement of appoint Pleasant then any other man.
The citizens of the community, who clung to the Methodist Episcopal faith, organized the first church in Point Pleasant. There were many Lutherans in the community, but all held membership in the church at Hartford or Mt. Zion. They later erected a church at home.
Nearly all the settlers of the Point Pleasant community came from the Shenandoah valley in Virginia. Before the Civil War opened, some of the settlers would visit their relatives in the old-home state nearly every year. When the war came, the ties of relationship were strong and the settlers were reluctant to fight their Virginia cousins. On the other hand they were patriotic citizens and desired the preservation of the Union. They were willing to fight, if necessary, but they hesitated to volunteer. By the end of the first year of the war only eleven Valley township men had enlisted, which was by far he smallest number in proportion to population of any township in the county. The average number too the township was forty-one. N. H. Larrick, who did enter the service, fought against one of his cousins in Winchester.
A Point Pleasant business directory of 1870 lists the following: Harrison Secrest, proprietor of hotel and woolen factory; J. M. Secrest, woolen factory; J. W. Cochran, blacksmith; J. A. Kackley, blacksmith; John Deeren, drygoods; J. B. Clark and S. F. Secrest, drygoods; N. G. and J. T. Wallar, drygoods; J. W. Spaid, tanner; William teeter, physician and surgeon.
There being a Point Pleasant postoffice in Clermont county, the office here was named Dyson. The village thus had two names until 1887, when both gave way to a new one—Pleasant City. It was incorporated in 1896. Fairview, an addition on the west side in which many people live, has never become a part of the corporation. In 1850 the population of Point Pleasant was 106; in 1860, 114; in 1870, 138. The population of Pleasant City was 1006 in 1900; 788 in 1910; 781 in 1920; 627 in 1930; 563 in 1940.
Buffalo.—David Johnson and John Secrest laid out a town they called Hartford on September 26, 1836. There being a Hartford in Trumbull county, the name of the Guernsey county town was later changed to Buffalo. To many of the older people it is yet better known by the former name.
Buffalo is one of the largest unincorporated villages in Ohio. It has no mayor, council or town clerk. The usual duties of these officials are performed by the township authorities. The population of Hartford was 113 in 1850, 103 in 1860, and 98 in 1870. Since 1870 the census has not shown the population apart from that of the township. However, it ranks amongst the largest villages of the county.
On Seneca creek at Hartford a mill propelled by water power was built in early days. Spanning the creek below Hartford was a wooden covered bridge, built by the first settlers and used for almost a century. It was a noted landmark to travelers on the Clay pike. Morgan’s men, after they had crossed the bridge on the night of July 23, 1863, set fire to it, hoping to check General Shackleford who was in close pursuit. The Union army arrived and extinguished th flames before much damage was done.
Other Villages---Derwent, another unincorporated village, was platted by Eliza Dickerson on August 10, 1898. Blue Bell, which once has a post office, a railroad station, a store and several houses, is now but a community name. Opperman, platted by Thomas Moore and wife on August 28, 1903, is almost a lost town, too. While the mines there were being operated, it was a flourishing village with its railroad station, stores, school and homes, but nearly all have disappeared. Walhonding in the southeastern part of the township is composed almost entirely of foreigners. North Star near the Old Black Mine and Middletown on the Clay Pike, are mining communities.
Fought on Both Sides.—James E. Spaid, who died in Valley township a few years ago, saw service on both sides in the Civil War, an experience that was probably not paralleled by an other Guernsey county man. Born in Hampshire county, Virginia, in 1840, he there learned the carpenter trade. When war between the North and South broke out, he went to Romney, the county seat of Hampshire county, and enlisted in Company K, Thirteenth Virginia Regiment, as a Confederate soldier. He fought against the North at Bull Run, the first battle of the war.
The following year he asked for a furlough, which was granted him by the Southern commander. He came north to Valley township to visit relatives. While there amongst Union sympathizers he decided to desert the cause of his native state and cast his lot with the North. His military training on the other side served him well. By vote he was elected captain of the Valley township militia, and commissioned as such by Gov. David Tod on July 20, 1863.
Early Subscription School.—In a log building that stood near the forks of the road at the east end of Pleasant City, George L. Wharton taught a subscription school a hundred years ago. The record of the term of three months beginning in December, 1838, and closing in March, 1839, is possessed by C. A. Flanagan. The little record book with its beautiful penmanship has been well preserved.
Peter Robbins was the clerk and treasurer of the district. Pleasant City (then called Point Pleasant) was two years old. The number of children enrolled in Wharton’s school was thirty-four, which was probably the number of school age in the neighborhood. Their ages ranged from five to twenty-one years. The parents from whom the teacher collected tuition--the heads of Pleasant City families a century ago--were Joseph Dyson, William Spaid, John Hartman, Samuel Kirkpatirck, Joseph M. Thompson, James Wood, Lyda Alban, William Lafollett, Absalom Sines, Robert Taylor, Margaret Hartman and Michael Spaid.
Hartford in 1837.—The following advertisement appeared in The Guernsey Times, published February 4, 1837:
“A blacksmith who can bring a good recommendation will meet with a good chance by applying to the undersigned at Hartford, Guernsey county, Ohio. A shop will be ready by the first of April. I have also a set of tools that can be had if they are wanted. The inducements for a blacksmith as well as other mechanics are very great; mechanics are very scarce in this part of the county.
“Hartford is a handsome settlement, being on the north side of Seneca creek. Hartford is favored with a good grist and saw-mill, excellent water, and timber and stone convenient for building. A second sale of lots will take place next spring, but those wishing to purchase soon, can be accommodated at any time. “David Johnson.”
The Rural Church
About twenty-five years ago a survey by the Country Church Work Board of the Presbyterian church disclosed that there were 800 rural churches in Ohio “whose doors and windows had been nailed shut, never to be used again for religious purposes.” Many others, according to the report of the survey, were dead or dying. A similar survey today would show, no doubt, that the number of rural churches is steadily decreasing. Not for many years has a rural church been erected in Guernsey county. On the other hand there is scarcely a township that has not lost one or more of its places of worship.
Why Rural Churches Are Declining.—Various causes have been assigned for the decadence of the country church. Most communities have been overchurched. In earlier days much attention was given to religion by the people in rural sections. Having little contact with the outside world, they lived monotonous lives. There was much time for reflection along religious lines. The circuit rider or itinerant preacher who visited the community would be received gladly. He would gather a group in some home and organize a church of the denomination he represented. A permanent place of worship would be erected later. Much thought was given to religion, whose discussions pertained largely to denominational differences.
A few years ago one Guernsey county township with a population of less than 600 had within its boundaries six churches, representing five different religious denominations. Three others, representing two different denominations, had been closed. It should be obvious that a population so small could not support nine churches.
When better means of transportation came community boundaries were extended. Many transferred their membership from the country churches to those of like denominations in urban centers. In Guernsey county the rural populations has been decreasing for several years. In the decade between 1920 and 1930 it dropped 20 pre cent.
Some Rural Churches Are Prosperous.—Not all the country churches have declined. Some are strong yet, despite the changed conditions in rural life. We can point to several in Guernsey county that are fairly prosperous. The present membership of these is composed largely of descendants of the ones who established the churches, perhaps a century ago. True to the faith of their fathers who sleep in the adjoining churchyard, they continue to carry on, although it is an effort for some to do so.
A Source of Inspiration.—Much praise has been given the one-room rural school, which is disappearing from the land faster than the rural church. Time and again it has been said that from the little red schoolhouse have gone men and women who attained places of great usefulness and fame. The little rural church has also been the source of inspiration to many who have labored for the betterment of our American life. As an illustration we shall trace one Guernsey county church through its century of existence, and show how it has influenced the lives of many young people who attended services there. This is the Bethel church which is located in the southwestern part of Valley township. For the data that have enabled us to write this brief history we are indebted to Miss Lela F. Robins, a direct descendant of John Robins, one of the founders of the church, who came to what is now Guernsey county in 1807, from the Island of Guernsey. At the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the church in 1936, Miss Robins presented an excellent paper in which she gave the history of Bethel and pointed out some of its achievements.
Established in 1833.—The church had its beginning back in the old circuit-rider days, when the preacher would often ride two or three hundred miles, in the face of much danger and hardship, in order to make an appointment once a month. Into the neighborhood of the present Bethel church Rev. Gilbert Blue, a circuit rider, and presiding Elder Wesley Browning came in 1833. They found a group of pioneer settlers who were glad to comply with the request that they organize a Methodist Episcopal church. The first meeting was held in Hugh McCoy’s barn, and for there years the little group worshipped here and at the home of ”Old Uncle Billy” Johnson. The records show the following early members of this organization: William Johnson and wife, Benjamin Clark and wife, James Scott and wife, Isaac Moore and wife, Hugh McCoy and wife, John Robins and wife, Edward Heinlein and wife, William C. Wilson and wife, David Gander and wife, Rebecca and Sarah Fishel, Catherine Downey, Joseph Imlay, John Daubs and Peter Langley.
How a Bible Was Obtained.—In 1836 John Robins gave the organization a site for a church and cemetery. A small frame structure was erected at a cost of $760. Candles were used to light the interior when services were held at night, and for many years William Craig Wilson, the old sexton, was a familiar figure as he passed around snuffing the candles at regular intervals.
How to obtain a Bible for this last church was a problem eventually solved by one good woman who grew flax and spun and wove it into mill sacks which were taken to Zanesville and sold. When, at length, Bible agents came into the neighborhood, they were welcomed at all the homes. On occasions of quarterly meetings representatives of churches many miles away would assemble at Bethel. It was not uncommon for twenty-five or even fifty visitors to be entertained in one home at the time of a quarterly meeting.
The present Bethel church was erected in 1873, at a cost of $5,000, the building committee being composed of T. J. Moore, E. A. Robins and R. I. Shepler. Improvements costing $2,500 were made in 1898, and the building was rededicated by Dr. David H. Moore. The members of the committee in charge were R. I. Shepler, John H. Robins, B.C. Johnson, A. P. Fishel and J. M. Scott.
Bethel Sends Out Sixteen Ministers.—Bethel church holds a record of inspiring young men to enter the ministry that is outstanding among the rural churches of the entire Conference. In the century of its existence it sent out sixteen ministers to carry the gospel to the outside world. All of these, it is to be noted, received their early religious training and inspiration in this little rural church. The long list follows: Rev. Aaron H. Heinlen, son of a charter member, the Missouri Conference; Rev. James Harvey Scott, son of another charter member, the Colorado Conference: Rev. James W. Robins, the Pittsburgh and East Ohio Conferences, and publishing committee of the Pittsburgh Christian Advocate; Rev.. Harrison T. Robins, the Missouri Conference; Rev. William T. Johnson, the Baltimore Conference; Rev. Samuel F. Johnson, the New England Southern Conference; Rev. Ross Wesley Adair, North Dakota and North Minnesota Conferences, whose son, Rev. Ross C. Adair, now assists him in the Goodwill Industries in St. Louis; Rev. Joseph Paregoy Adair, the North Minnesota Conference; Rev. Joseph E. Watson, the East Ohio and West Wisconsin Conferences; Rev. John E. LePage, who served churches in an eastern state until his death in 1926; Rev. Samuel Maynard LePage, now pastor of a Congregational church in Rowley, Massachusetts; Rev. A. B. Johnson, the North-East Ohio Conference; Rev. Frank A. LePage, the North-East Ohio Conference; Howard LePage, a Methodist preacher; Rev. Herbert LePage, the Indiana Conference; Rev. Wayne Snyder, a member of Bethel for a time, the Ohio Conference.
Miss Rebecca J. Hammond rendered fourteen effective years as a missionary in South America. She was afterwards stationed in Porto Rico where she contracted an illness resulting in death in 1912. Six young women of the church became wives of ministers.
Others Engage in Useful Work.—Many young men of the Bethel congregation served their country in the Civil War and the World War. Six entered the medical profession and two the profession of law. About fifty young people of the church became public school teachers. Scores of other men and women, who were influenced by the Bethel church, have gone elsewhere to engage in various activities and have become leading citizens of their communities.
Such is the history, in brief, of one Guernsey county rural church. Its influence not only affected the community in which it was located, but reached far away, even to foreign lands. Similar stories might be written about other rural churches. However, this is sufficient to show the value of the service rendered by a type of religious institution that is slowly passing away.