Brownhelm Township

Rich In History

Brownhelm Township 
1940 North Ridge Road
Vermilion, Ohio 44089
Phone: (440) 984-2243 

Brownhelm Township is located on Lake Erie between Cleveland and Toledo. Much of the township resides in Vermilion, Ohio. Rich in history, the stunning beauty of this country hamlet features picturesque farms, historic homesteads, gently rolling hills and scenic nature. Brownhelm is home to the Historic Brownhelm School & Museum, the Brownhelm Heritage Museum, Vermilion River Reservation, the Benjamin Bacon Museum, Mill Hollow, Bacon Woods, Brownhelm Schoolhouse Park, Brownhelm Lakefront Park, Historic Brownhelm Cemetery, Rugby Cemetery, Brown’s Lake Road Cemetery, and an Ohio historical marker honoring John Mercer Langston. Orchards, farms, fruit farms, vineyards and roadside stands dot the countryside.

The township is governed by a three-member board of trustees, who are elected in November of odd-numbered years to a four-year term beginning on the following January 1. Two are elected in the year after the presidential election and one is elected in the year before it. There is also an elected township fiscal officer who serves a four-year term beginning on April 1 of the year after the election, which is held in November of the year before the presidential election. Vacancies in the fiscal officership or on the board of trustees are filled by the remaining trustees. The Board of Trustees meet at 7 pm on the first Monday of each month at the Township Hall.

Brownhelm Township Parks & Recreation

Brownhelm Schoolhouse Park

The Brownhelm Schoolhouse Park is located behind the Township Hall at 1940 North Ridge Road in Vermilion. The park has soccer and baseball fields along with basketball courts, a picnic pavilion, and a playground for children.

Brownhelm Lakefront Park

Brownhelm Lakefront Park is located at the end of Woodside Avenue, north off Lake Road (US Route 6), about a mile west of Baumhart Road. Beautiful views of Lake Erie can be seen from the park benches in this park which also has a handicap accessible picnic area.

Brownhelm Township Parks Rules & Regulations

  • No person shall injure, deface, destroy, disturb, or remove any part of the park, signs, facilities, or growing things. Damages incurred become the financial responsibility of the perpetrator(s) or their parents, if a juvenile.
  • No loitering or dumping of any material of any kind in the park except any refuse arising from the normal use and enjoyment of the park. All refuse must be placed in appropriate trash containers.
  • No person may molest, injure, or destroy any wildlife in the park.
  • No portable stoves or grills are permitted in shelters or on compositional picnic tables.
  • No fires except for cooking purposes and only in a designated area.
  • No dumping of hot ashes or fire onto grass, plants, ground, or trash receptacles.
  • No use of firearms, fireworks, or any other explosives.
  • No overnight camping or parking on township park property.
  • No person shall disturb the peace of other park patrons or park neighbors.
  • There shall be no gambling or alcoholic beverages permitted in the park. No one under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug of abuse shall be permitted in the park.
  • No person shall be in the park with indecent conduct or exposure.
  • No person shall use obscene or abusive language in the park.
  • All vehicles in the park must remain on established roadways or parking areas and observe a 10 mile per hour speed limit. No reckless operation shall be permitted in the park.
  • All animals must be on a leash and their litter picked up by the owner or other responsible party.
  • Park facilities are closed from dusk to dawn and all juveniles are subject to the township curfew. Anyone on township property after curfew or closing hours will be considered trespassing and subject to arrest for criminal trespass unless special permission has been previously obtained from a township official.
  • Any person directed to leave the park premises by a township official or law enforcement officer for any misconduct must do so immediately or face charges for criminal trespass.

Showse Park & Beach

Located in Vermilion on the Lake, this park contains a beach, two ball diamonds, a basketball court, tennis courts, a soccer field, a pavilion and a playground. Located along the shore of Lake Erie, Showse Park gives people the opportunity to stop for a rest or to enjoy the boats and scenes of the waterfront. Showse Park & Beach are managed by the City of Vermilion.

Vermilion River Reservation

Vermilion River Reservation is managed by Lorain County Metro Parks. Spanning two adjacent areas separated by the Vermilion River—Mill Hollow on one side and Bacon Woods on the other—this immaculate park is a favorite of picnickers, naturalists and anyone who just wants to enjoy its natural beauty.  If you're looking to picnic in a beautiful place with plenty of activities for both adults and children, this is an ideal place to come. With 273 picnic tables and four reservable shelters, the Vermilion Reservation draws over 230,000 people a year—making it the number one picnic area in the Lorain County Metro Parks system. It's not surprising considering the spotless maintenance, plenty of open space, 5 miles of wooded trails, a playground and two ponds that attract visiting waterfowl year-round.

Surrounded by tall trees and a split-rail fence, you can't miss the picturesque Bacon House Museum and Carriage Barn at Mill Hollow. During museum hours you can walk through the original settler Benjamin Bacon's house, built in 1845. The museum features themes of daily living and puts an emphasis on the community life in Brownhelm, including the profound effect the railroad had on the economy and on people's lives.  Just next to the Bacon House Museum, the Carriage Barn offers visitors information about the park and hosts nature programs throughout the year. A large rustic meeting room can be reserved for groups and includes a kitchen and large fireplace.

There's more than natural beauty at Vermilion Reservation. Bacon woods hosts a sizable amphitheater for musical concerts during the warmer months, and the park in general features several special programs including the Annual Car Show (which shows over 1000 cars.)  Perhaps the most striking feature of this reservation is the winding ribbon of shale cliffs carved by the Vermilion River. Millions of years old, these cliffs reveal layers of the past and drop bits of sandstone, shale and turtlerock along the riverbed. Since the Vermilion River has no industry along its banks, it is especially rich in wildlife. Aquatic life includes freshwater clams and several species of darters (small fish that feed along the bottom of the river) that turn brilliant colors during the mating season. Some insect species include mayflies, cadis flies and water pennies (beetle larvae that lie flat against a rock surface and look like pennies.)

The park naturally hosts a range of wildlife, but perhaps most singular at Vermilion River Reservation are the bald eagles. These magnificent creatures can be seen almost daily at Mill Hollow, perched in one of the tall trees near the center of the park. Other wildlife at the reservation is more typical of the area and includes Great Blue Heron, Greenback Heron and various geese and ducks.  Wildflower lovers come from all over in spring and early summer to see the color and variety of these indigenous species which include Dutchman's britches and Blood Root along with a long list of other species found throughout northeast Ohio.

Brownhelm Township Zoning Department

Phone: (440) 670-2238

Zoning in Brownhelm Township is designed to "protect the health, safety, and welfare" of those living in the community. Most zoning regulations are a matter of common sense and help to make sure that people use their property in such a way that is not detrimental to those living in the same area or to the community as a whole. All construction, from decks to homes and businesses, requires a zoning certificate which is available from the Zoning Inspector.

Brownhelm Township Maintenance Department

Brownhelm Township Road & General Maintenance Services
Township Garage: 1360 Claus Road, Vermilion, Ohio, (440) 984-2257
Superintendent of Labor: (440) 670-1375

The Brownhelm Township Maintenance Department is staffed with full-time and part-time employees. The Department's responsibilities include road maintenance, snow removal, mowing and maintenance of the cemetery, the parks, and the Township Hall, plus several other duties included in the upkeep of the Township.

Brownhelm Township Cemeteries

Brownhelm Cemetery - North Ridge Road, Vermilion, Ohio

Historical Brownhelm Cemetery, located at North Ridge and Sunnyside roads, is the resting place of early settlers and prominent residents of the area, including:

Col. Henry Brown, a New Englander, was among the first pioneers who settled the area. The township was named after him. He was a successful businessman and civic leader. Brown helped found Oberlin College and was instrumental in the development of Case Western Reserve University.

Hannah James was the second wife of Ezekiel Goodrich, a well-known cabinetmaker. The couple had several children. They divorced in 1837, an act unheard of during the times.

George Bacon Sr., at the age of 17 years old, dumped tea into the Boston Harbor during the Revolutionary War-era incident known as the Boston Tea Party. He lived to be 85 years old.

Grandison Fairchild was the father of James H. Fairchild, third president of Oberlin College who was an abolitionist and took part of the 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of the fugitive slave John Price. His sister, Harriet Fairchild Alverson, taught the first school in Brownhelm in her own home in 1819. Grandison was the first teacher in the first schoolhouse built next to his sister's home. He lived to be 98 years old.

Amanda Church Bacon was the wife of William S. Bacon, the grandson of Benjamin Bacon, one of the area's most famous pioneer settlers. He was justice of the peace, county commissioner, and owner of Bacon’s Mills. Her mother, Anna Bacon, was Benjamin Bacon’s third wife.

Brown’s Lake Road Cemetery - Liberty Avenue, Vermilion, Ohio

Brown’s Lake Road Cemetery, the once 'lost forgotten cemetery', is located at 1863 Liberty Avenue in Vermilion. It is no longer forgotten. Through much time and legal effort, the Brownhelm Historical Association managed to gain ownership to protect, renew, maintain and honor the cemetery site.  Brown’s Lake Road Cemetery was named after Col. Henry Brown, founder of Brownhelm and who established the first ‘burying ground’ in the new township. His daughter Charlotte Brown, young wife of Ezekiel Goodrich, was one of the first to be buried there. Many of Brownhelm’s early settlers were laid to rest there, including a Revolutionary War veteran, Bildad Belden.

Rugby Cemetery - North Ridge Road, Vermilion, Ohio

Rugby Cemetery is located on North Ridge Road, about one mile west of Mill Hollow Park. Contact the Township Superintendent of Labor at (440) 670-1375 for cost, lot purchases, scheduling, or other services.

Grave Sites:
  • Resident - $500.00 per grave site
  • Non-Resident - $650.00 per grave site
Headstones:
Above ground headstones and monuments are permitted. Foundations for all headstones will be set by Township employees and a charge will be made. Only standard grave markers are allowed. Headstones are limited to 48 inches in length, 14 inches in width, and 36 inches in height.

Decorations:
Decorations are permitted if placed within one foot of the headstone and in such a manner as to permit mowing and trimming. Any faded, wilted, or out of season flowers, or anything else that the cemetery workers deem to be inappropriate will be removed from grave sites. Spring clean-up is March 15th to March 30th. Fall clean-up is November 1st to November 15th.

General:
  • Permanent planting of trees, shrubs, and flowers is not permitted.
  • All grave decorations are placed at the owners risk.
  • No glass containers are allowed.
  • Resale or transfer of lots are to be made only to Township Trustees.
  • Opening and closing of graves and cost of graves are to be paid in full prior to burial.
  • The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn.

Brownhelm Township Recycling & Trash Collection

Household Trash Dumpsters:

Dumpsters are available twice per year and can be found at the Township Garage at 1360 Claus Road in Vermilion. Household trash may be deposited in these on the first Friday from 8 am to 5 pm and the first Saturday morning (after the first Friday) from 8 am to noon of the months of May and October.

Recycling:

Those residents who’ve contracted with Allied Waste/Republic Services [1-800-449-5463] for their weekly trash collection are provided with recycling containers for free. Items collected for recycling include newspapers, magazines, aluminum cans, glass, plastic bottles, and similar recyclables. Special recycling events, sponsored by the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District, for the collection of such items as tires, oil, paint, and all hazardous waste are held occasionally.

Curbside Trash Pickup:

Residents have the opportunity to choose their own refuse company which can be found in the Centurytel Yellow Pages under rubbish or garbage collection services. Please keep trash bins at least 3 feet from the paved road surface. The trash trucks’ collection arms can reach 8’ off the road and bins in the road make snow plowing difficult.

Brownhelm Township Law Enforcement & Fire Department

Please Dial 9-1-1 In Case Of Emergency

Brownhelm Township law enforcement is provided by the Lorain County Sheriff's Department who may be contacted at (440) 244-0373 for non-emergencies.

Fire protection is provided by the Vermilion Fire Department, the South Amherst Fire Department, and the Florence Township Fire Department.

Brownhelm Township Curfew For Minors

  • That a curfew for all persons age sixteen (16) and under is hereby enacted for the immediate perservation of the public peace, health, and safety in the unincorporated areas of the Township of Brownhelm, Lorain County, Ohio.
  • That the provisions of the curfew shall be as follows:
  • No minor age sixteen (16) and under shall be or remain upon any public road, street, sidewalk, alley, or public places in the unicorporated area of the Township of Brownhelm between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 5:00 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent, guardian, or person having legal custody and control of the child has a legitimate excuse therefore.
  • The within curfew shall be extended one hour from the termination of any school sanctioned activities and shall likewise be extended from the hour of termination from work for any employed minor.
  • Any person age sixteen (16) or under who violates the provisions of this curfew shall be apprehended and taken home to parents, guardians, or other authorized persons.
  • Any person apprehended for second or subsequent violations shall be charged as being an unruly child and taken before the Juvenile Court of Lorain County as provided in Chapter 2151 of the Ohio Revised Code.
  • The reasons for such curfew are that certain incidents of vandalism and destruction of property by minors have occurred at certain hours of the night in the township; that life and property has been endangered; and that a threat to the comfort and safety of the residents of Brownhelm Township exists.
  • The aforesaid curfew shall be enforced by the Lorain County Sheriff's Department and shall become effective immediately.
  • Adopted by the Brownhelm Township Trustees on July 22, 1995.

Brownhelm Historical Association

Brownhelm Historical Association
PO Box 303
Vermilion, Ohio 44089

The Brownhelm Historical Association works to perserve the rich history of Brownhelm, Ohio. The mission of the Brownhelm Historical Association is to honor Brownhelm’s rich heritage by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the history of its people and the area. The Brownhelm Historical Association currently maintains three historic sites. 

The Brownhelm Historical Association holds meetings the first Wednesday of each month in February, March, April, May and June; off July and August; resume September, October, November, and December. Meetings are held either at the Carriage Barn in Mill Hollow or at the Historic Brownhelm School & Museum on North Ridge Road. Doors open at 6:15 pm for those who wish to attend the business meeting from 6:30 - 7 pm. Those wishing to only attend the program should arrive between 7 - 7:15 pm for refreshments and socializing. Programs start at 7:30 pm. The December Christmas Meeting is held at the Brownhelm Heritage Museum (formerly the German Evangelical and Reformed Church) at 1355 Claus Road, Vermilion.

The Brownhelm Historical Association is renovating the former Brownhelm School (1889-1988) located at 1940 North Ridge Road. The Historic Brownhelm School & Museum offers a place for meetings, hosts the annual Brownhelm Community Christmas, provides events for the community, and hosts fundraisers such as the annual Grandma’s Attic Sale. Upstairs classrooms house museum space displaying historical artifacts from the school’s past and from notable historical locations such as Swifts Mansion and the Light of Hope Orphanage.

The Brownhelm Historical Association maintains the Brownhelm Heritage Museum at 1355 Claus Road, Vermilion. Built in 1870, it was formerly the German Evangelical and Reformed Church and was given to the association by its last 3 remaining members. The church was restored and it now houses many artifacts of Brownhelm history.

The 'lost forgotten cemetery', located at 1863 Liberty Avenue in Vermilion, is no longer forgotten. Through much time and legal effort, the BHA managed to gain ownership to protect, renew, maintain and honor the cemetery site.  Now known as Brown’s Lake Road Cemetery, it was named after Col. Henry Brown, founder of Brownhelm and who established the first ‘burying ground’ in the new township. His daughter Charlotte Brown, young wife of Ezekiel Goodrich, was one of the first to be buried there. Many of Brownhelm’s early settlers were also laid to rest there, including a Revolutionary War veteran, Bildad Belden.

Brownhelm Township Ohio Early Settlement

In May of 1816 began an event that has been referred to as the “Year without Summer” in New England. Frost had killed off most of the crops that had been planted; soon most of New England was gripped by the cold front. There was widespread loss of crops with the result of regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic. Most likely spurred on by this natural disaster, in the fall of 1816 Henry Brown traveled with William Alverson and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.

Originally a part of Black River, in 1818 the area was separated into a township. The western part of the township was traversed by the crooked Vermillion, whose broad valley and high, steep banks give a pleasing diversity to the generally level surface. There were several other small streams not designated by name on the county map. The soil was more or less clay, modified along the ridges by gravel and sand, and, in small areas in the northern part of the town, by a deep, black muck of great fertility.

Early in the following year, Levi Shepard and Sylvester Barnum and their families, and two daughters of Stephen James, who came with Mr. Shepard, left Stockbridge for this township, where they arrived, after a protracted and tedious journey, in the after noon of July 4, 1817. Mr. James with his two sons (his wife having died previously) started from Stockbridge about the same time as Deacon Shepard and his associates, but taking the boat at Buffalo for Black River, reached the place about a week in advance of them. Mr Shepard and family are the conceded first settlers. “Mr. Shepard and his wife, without indicating their purpose to their fellow travelers, were careful to lead the way as they approached the selected territory, so as to be first on the ground. They crossed the line between Black River and Brownhelm some rods in advance of their associates, and thus they properly have the honor of being the first settlers.”

Some of the young men who came with Colonel Brown had returned east, but four of them remained and were on the ground when the three families arrived. These were Peter P. Pease, William Alverson, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. They were then single, but they subsequently married and settled in the town.

The first work of the assembled group was to prepare an independence dinner in honor of the occasion. This is believed to have been the first meal ever spread in the township by white women. Some of the young men, looking on while the women prepared the meal, were moved to tears. It was the first sight of anything like home that had met their eyes for many months. The material for the dinner was not over-abundant or varied, embracing the bread and pork which the young men contributed, and the relics of the provisions with which the travelers had been furnished for the journey. But the seasoning of appetite, novelty and hope made it a dinner long to be remembered, such as one enjoys but once in a life time. The party consisted of sixteen persons who shared in the meal.

Shepard, Barnum, and James took up their abode on the lake shore, jointly occupying, for a time, the log house of Colonel Brown.

Barnum, in a few days, vacated, his family living in a lumber wagon, on his purchase, for a short time, until the completion of his house. He remained but a few years in the township. Most of his family died of a malignant disease called “milk sickness,” or “ sick stomach,” which prevailed so fatally in the town in an early day, and he returned to Massachusetts, where he subsequently died.

Shepard and James continued their occupancy of the Brown house, until the erection, by the former, of a cabin on his purchase on lot six, when the two families took up their abode there. Mr. James and family occupied a part of the house for about a year, when he erected a cabin on his farm, west of Colonel Brown.

Alverson took up residence on the ridge. He then returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to marry Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild. Together they returned to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam; on the way six weeks.

Before the close of the year in which the families previously mentioned arrived, those of Solomon Whit tlesey, Alva Curtis, Ebenezer Scott and Benjamin Bacon moved in.

Mr. Whittlesey located on the farm later occupied by his son Cyrus. Mr. Whittlesey was a great hunter in his pioneer days. His death occurred in 1871, aged eighty-five.

Deacon Curtis settled near the Vermillion, on the spot later occupied by Fred. Bacon. He opened here, in his house, the first hotel in the town. He had no descendants living in Brownhelm, and we have but little information concerning him. He died in 1846, his wife subsequently.

Mr. Bacon was the first justice of the peace in the place. Mr. Bacon was qualified by nature to be a leader, and was probably a man of as much influence and extended acquaintance as any other in the settlement. This weight of character was used on the side of order, education and sound morality.

The next year the settlement was increased by the arrival of a dozen families. One of the first was that of Anson Cooper, who moved in from Euclid, Cuyahoga county. Mr. Cooper died in 1846. He was the first town clerk in Brownhelm.

The families of Colonel Brown, Grandison Fairchild, Alfred Avery, Enos Cooley, Elisha Peck, George Bacon, John Graham, Orrin Sage, Chester Seymour, Thomas Ely and Dr. Brown moved in soon after. Colonel Brown took up his abode in the house on the lake shore already prepared for him.

The privilege of naming the place was yielded by the citizens, at a meeting called for the purpose, at Mr. Barnum's, to Colonel Brown. He gave it the name "Brownhelm," which caused some displeasure among some of the people, as implying that Colonel Brown was to steer the ship, a thought which was probably not in his mind in connection with the name. He doubtless sought only for an agreeable termination of the name, and found it in the old Saxon word ham or hem, softened for euphony to helm, and signifying ‘home,’ or dwelling place, and thus the name means “Brown’s home.” To some of the early inhabitants, it sounded like Brown at the helm, and a petition was at one time circulated to have the name changed to Freedom, but Brownhelm is the name that held steadfast.

The Early Settlers of  Brownhelm Township Ohio

President Fairchild, in his history of this township written in 1867, locates generally the early settlers as follows:

There were originally five lines of settlement in town, the lake shore and the four ridges parallel to it.

On the lake shore there were: Brown, Seymour, James, Shepard, Weed, Dr. Brown, Goodrich, Hart, Sly, Wells, Graham and Sheldon Johnson; and at a later day, Hawley Lathrop and Leach.

Between the shore and the First Ridge: Cooley, Barnum, Scott; and later, Perley Moulton and Rankin.

Along the First Ridge: Whittlesey, Alverson, Peter P. Pease. Cooper, Orrin Sage, Moulton, Joseph Scott and Ketchum; and later, Baker, Ewing, Lyon, Culver, Hiram Pease, Hamilton Perry, Parkhurst, Hastings, Bartlett, Hosford, Dimmock, Graves, Blodgett, Hemmingway, James Newbury and Job Smith.

On the principal ridge, known as the North Ridge: Andrews, Avery, Baldwin, Lincoln, Fairchild, Betts, Daniel Perry, and afterward his sons; the Bacons, three families, Curtis at the mill, Hinkley and Waters Bette; and beyond the river, Abishai Morse, Bradley, Hewett, Booth, Davis and his distillery, and Saunders. At a later day, along the same ridge, we have Belden, Samuel Curtis, Rodney Andrews, Henry Sage, Samuel Bacon, Leavenworth, Dr. Willard, Bailey, Kent Hawley, Edward Morse, Stephen Goodrich, Stephen Brown, John Newbury, Fancher, and many others still later.

Along the Middle Ridge or near it, on one side or the other: Peck, George James, Seth Morse, Wallace, Jones; and at a later day, Harris, Locke, Van Dusen, Ira Rugg, Cable, Frisbie, Chapin, Bushrod Perry, S. G. Morse, Parsons and Ira Wood; and still further south, Joseph Swift.

On the South Ridge road, the earliest families were Powers, Leonard, Durand, Andrews, Hancock, Denison, Holcomb, Abbott and Fuller. This road was soon set off to Henrietta.

Almost all of these families came from the east, most from Berkshire county, Massachusetts, some from Connecticut, and a few from other parts. A very few, discouraged by sickness and by the hardships of the new country, returned east.

Col. (Judge) Henry Brown

Col. (Judge) Henry Brown was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts on June 3, 1773. In his youth he started a course of liberal education at Harvard College, but by his sophomore year was experiencing failing health, thus discontinuing his studies. After he restored his health by travel and relieving the stress of college, he engaged in merchandise in his town and continued in the business until his newfound western interests required him to give it up.

In the fall of 1816, he visited the tract of country, then simply known as number six in the nineteenth range (Brownhelm) and on his return east he entered into contract with the Connecticut Land Company to form Brownhelm. The honor of naming this new township was awarded to him. Upon the organization of the county of Lorain, Col. Brown was appointed one of the three associate judges of the county, a position which, both by reason of his business experience and the natural bent of his mind, he was well qualified to fill.

Judge Brown also took an active part in the establishment of a college in the Western Reserve. Judge Brown was afterwards a member of the board of trustees of this college, and continued in the office until the infirmities of age compelled him to relinquish it. He was a man of many social qualities, and of much intelligence. He died December 10, 1843, in the seventy-first year of his age, and the family is now extinct in the township.

William Alverson

William Alverson, born August 18, 1784 in Holland, sailed from Amsterdam with his widowed mother and two brothers when he was ten years old. They settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. When he was a young man, he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the age of 32 he embarked on an adventure to become one of the founding fathers of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.

Frost had killed off most of the crops in New England in May of 1816, the “Year without Summer”. The result was regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic. Spurred on by this natural disaster, in the fall of 1816 William Alverson traveled with Henry Brown and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.

Township officers were chosen at the spring election in 1819, held at the home of George Bacon. Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis were elected trustees; Anson Cooper, township clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace.

Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had stuck their stakes. These were the earliest visits to the east. Returning to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, William Alverson married Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild, born August 2, 1798 in Stockbridge. They married June 8, 1819. Soon after their marriage they went to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam. They were on the way six weeks.

About three years after these first settlers arrived in Brownhelm, Mr. and Mrs. William Alverson were living in a house of their own, a timber framed home built on the crest of a hill on the North Ridge. Logs from the land were shaped into rectangular, hand-hewn posts and beams through the skilled use of axes. Precise mortise and tenon and dovetail joints were hand-carved, which were secured with wooden pegs. The skill in creating this precise joinery and intricately engineered timber frames was the source of great pride and competition among the timber frame artisans; so much so that it became a tradition for craftsmen to inscribe their initials next to the joinery they created. William Alverson carved an "A" next to the joints.

A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. This first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819.

In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. An old butternut tree stood near the door. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. Male teachers were often preferred in the winter months when the older students, no longer needed in the fields, returned to school and were of a more spirited humor. Fairchild received his tuition in chopping. Labor and produce were the currency employed for the exchange of values. Money was very scarce, and nearly all debts, except the one incurred in the purchase of lands, were paid in labor, its products, and those of the soil.

The site of the school was romantic. School children enjoyed sliding down the hill, wading in the brook, and floating logs down the creek. In winter children would skate upon the frozen stream.

The house was of modest dimensions, eighteen by twenty two, but was still thought by some to be too ambitious a disposition on the part of the people who lived on this road. Hence, the street was nicknamed Strut Street by a man who would have the house twelve feet square - a title it bore for many years. This school house was finished with a stick chimney and a broad fireplace without jambs. A board around the house, resting on pins projecting from the walls, served for desks. Whitewood slabs supported by pins made the seats. Loose boards lying on joists made a loft above, and an excavation beneath the floor, reached by raising a board, was thought by the children to serve as a dungeon for the punishment of offenders. In their childish simplicity, they supposed the excavation was made for the purpose, with malice prepense, but it was an accidental result of making mortar to build the chimney.

Children from every part of the town attended. There was no public school fund in those times and the teacher received his compensation in work in his chopping the next spring day, being distributed among the families according to the number of children attending the school. For years afterwards teachers received their pay in farm produce.

One summer day the teacher placed her chair on the table, removed a board from the floor above, lifted the children up one by one and kept school up stairs - the excuse being that Colonel Brown's bull had been seen loose around the street that day and he might be wild.

In 1824 the "Yellow School House" was built a few feet west of the log one and the boys had the exquisite pleasure of rolling the old house down the hill. This yellow school house was an elegant one in its day, painted throughout and plastered. It was no ordinary school house, but a genuine academy furnished with unusual apparatus globes and wall maps, and pantograph and tables for map drawing and painting. This was the first attempt in the county, and indeed in a much wider region, at a school of anything more than a local character. It prospered for two or three years, attracting young ladies in the summer from all the older settlements within a distance of twenty miles - Milan, Norwalk, Florence, Elyria, Shelfield etc. The first summer the house was without heat. In cool, wet weather the boys kept up an outdoor fire, and between the damp plastering within and the rain without some of the children took the ague and shook the summer through. In the fall a stove was bought - probably the first that was ever brought into town - a diminutive box stove eighteen inches in length, but a wonder to the children of the woods who had never seen a stove. Over that children shivered two or three winters until it was succeeded by a larger stove cast in plates but utterly destitute of clamping rods to hold it together. No man in the community knew that such a thing was necessary, and it was no rare occurrence for a long stick to thrust out the end plate and occasionally the whole fabric collapsed at once. But such annoyances were but trifles and the Brownhelm school maintained a character above that of other schools in the country around. There was no other school in town the first dozen years or more. After three or four years it ceased to be anything but a local school. The old yellow school house eventually went off in a blaze.

In the summer of 1830, Rev Hervey Lyon opened an academy in a small house built for the purpose. This was kept up two years and attended by small number of pupils, a few of whom commenced Latin and Greek in preparation for college. This was the first classical school in the county and gave place to the Elyria high school established in 1832. This school enjoyed two years of great prosperity until the school at Oberlin was opened in 1834, which at once took the lead and has maintained it. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, was active in the founding of Oberlin College. Her nephew, James, was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century.

In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on North Ridge Road. The original red brick school was square in plan with four evenly spaced brick pilasters along the front, back and sides. Ventilation and daylight were introduced into the interior by tall, narrow, double hung windows. The building had a steeply pitched hip roof. In 1905, an addition was constructed on the west side of the 1889 building. The less steeply pitched hip roof was added at this time, featuring a deep overhang with carved wood bracked supports. Roof dormers and a cupola were added with this addition. In 1922, the Brownhelm School was renovated and further enlarged. The renovation included a new red brick Neo classical/Georgian Revival front facade. The round top glass transom and stonework detailing gave importance to the main entrance. The rear flat roofed brick and masonry addition added a large combination auditorium and gymnasium. 

The Alversons had six children:
  • Emily Louisa- born April 30, 1820 in Brownhelm, Ohio; died September 2, 1882 in Lee, Massachusetts
  • Mary Lucinia - born September 24, 1821; died April 18, 1840 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
  • Daniel Fairchild - born February 19, 1823; died December 5, 1893 in Canandaigun, New York (On June 15, 1848 Daniel Fairchild Alverson married Sarah Cowdery (1822-1906) in Rochester, Monroe Co., New York. Sarah was the daughter of the celebrated frontier printer and editor, Benjamin Franklin Cowdery (1790-1867).)
  • Elizabeth Elvira - born February 8, 1825; died April 1895 in Brownhelm, Ohio
  • Frederick William - born December 14, 1829; died August 1894 in Canadaigun, New York
  • Julia Harriet - born March 17, 1834, Stockbridge, Massachusetts; died March 8, 1861 in Lee, Massachusetts
In 1830 the Alversons returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where they lived until the the death of Mr. Alverson on February 2, 1847 in Stockbridge. Harriet Fairchild Alverson married a second husband on December 2, 1856, Elisha Benham. Harriet Fairchild Alverson Benham died September 30, 1885 in West Haven, Connecticut.

Grandison Fairchild

Grandison Fairchild was born in Sheflield, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, April 20, 1792. November 25, 1813, he married Nancy Harris, daughter of William Harris, who was an early settler in Brownhelm. She was born October 30, 1795. Mr. Fairchild, with his family, then consisting of wife and three children, removed from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to Brownhelm in September, 1818, coming from Buffalo to Cleveland on the pioneer steamer, Walk-in-the-Water. Four days were spent on the water, the vessel lying for two days on a bar at Erie. From Cleveland the journey was made with team and wagon. Mr. Fairchild’s location was on North Ridge, between the later residence of his son Charles and the church. He later moved a short distance east of his original location, in his eighty seventh year, erect and seemingly as vigorous as ever. Mrs. Fairchild died in August, 1875. There were ten children. His sons became presidents of various educational institutions. James was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century. Henry was president of Berea College at Berea, Kentucky. George was president of Kansas State University.

Deacon Shepard

Deacon Shepard was born near Sturbridge, Worcester County, Massachusetts, December 9, 1784. When a boy he removed with his parents to Stockbridge where he resided until his emigration to Ohio. He was a blacksmith and prosecuted his trade in connection with his farm work for several years in Brownhelm, his patrons paying him in work at clearing and logging on his farm. Mr. Shepard was blessed with a remarkably strong constitution. At the age of eighty-three he could work all day with almost as little consequent fatigue as in the days of his young manhood; and the summer immediately preceding his eighty-fourth birthday he was engaged in chopping wood, and splitting rails, almost the entire season. In December, 1876, he sustained a partial stroke of paralysis in his lower limbs, and since that time he moved about with difficulty. His hearing and eyesight were also much impaired. But, notwithstanding his bodily infirmities, his mind still remained comparatively vigorous, and his memory of early events was remarkably good. He was small in stature, and his form much bent, bowed down by the weight of years. He enjoyed, extremely, a chat about pioneer times, and related with glee how be secured for himself and family the honor of being the first settlers. Deacon Shepard has no descendants now living the town. His third wife died, and his four children, two sons and two daughters, moved somewhere in the west.

Stephen James

Stephen James was born in Middlesex, Connecticut, August 8, 1767, but removed to Stockbridge, Massachusetts when young. He was prominently identified with the church for many years in Brownhelm, and also in Stockbridge, where he was first elected to the office of deacon under Rev. Dr. West. This office he filled with equal credit to himself, and satisfaction to the church. He instituted the first known religious services held in this township, holding meeting at Judge Brown’s house the Sunday immediately preceding the arrival of Deacon Shepard and his associates. Before the advent of the minister, he led the meetings of the little band in the woods of Brownhelm, regularly sustaining a reading service on the Sabbath, in connection with his brethren, until they were blessed with the stated ministry of the word. He frequently officiated on funeral and other occasions, and assisted in the organization of religious services in neighboring settlements. He was well qualified for such work, possessing, it is said, among other qualifications, considerable fluency of speech. In all the walks of life, Deacon James was distinguished for benevolence, moral rectitude, and earnest, active piety. He married, at the age of twenty-seven, Hannah Schofield, of Stanford, Connecticut, who died in 1811, leaving five children, three sons and two daughters. One of the sons being an apprentice in Massachusetts, never emigrated to the west. In the fall of 1828, he married Miss Rhoda Buck, of Connecticut, who was visiting friends in Brownhelm at the time. No children were born of this marriage. Deacon James died in 1841, his wife surviving him several years.

Orrin Sage

Orrin Sage, originally from Hartford, Connecticut, married Lucy Cooper, of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in June, 1818, and, immediately afterwards, with George Bacon and his wife, who was a sister of Mrs. Sage, set out for the distant west. The party had a wagon and two ox-teams, and a single horse and wagon with which they made the journey, and were five weeks coming through. At Buffalo they shipped their goods by the lake to Black River. Sage located on the farm adjoining on the north - that on which the Bacons later lived. He died in October, 1823, and his widow soon after exchanged farms with Jona than Hosford and returned with her little son to Stockbridge.

Bacon

Bacon located on a farm. His first wife died in 1826, and he returned to Stockbridge and a year subsequently married Mrs. Sage, when they removed to Brownhehn. Mrs. Bacon died in January, 1875. Mrs. Bacon lived into her eighties.

Enos Cooley

Enos Cooley began life in the wilderness on a cash capital of six cents. He located near the lake shore, erecting his cabin on the spot later occupied by the residence of the widow of Lewis Braun. He subsequently removed to a permanent location on the North Ridge, where he resided until his death in 1847. Two of his children were later living in this township. They are Moses and Chester A. The latter owned and operated at Bacon’s Corners the only cheese factory in the town.

Elisha Peck

Elisha Peck, with wife and ten children, arrived in Brownhelm in November of the year previously mentioned. The family stopped with Colonel Brown the night after their arrival, and then moved into the house of Alfred Avery, where they remained some three weeks. They then took up their abode on lot fifty-four, a log house having been rolled together. It was indeed a. primitive house when the family moved into it, for it was without a floor of any kind, and the first night the children made their bed on mother earth. The father and mother were provided with a bedstead constructed of poles, and elm bark was made to answer in place of a cord. Mr. Peck was a shoemaker and worked at his trade for over sixty years. He also had a rude tannery in Brownhelm at an early day. He was born in Berlin, Connecticut, March 7, 1773, and died in Brownhelm January 7, 1858, aged eighty-four years and ten months. His wife was Millicent Byington, of Bristol, Connecticut. They had four children.

Deacon George Wells

Deacon George Wells arrived in 1818. He was at the time unmarried. He bought a piece of land on the lake shore, felled a tree, and with a few poles and bark made himself a rude shelter in which he lived the first summer. A short time afterward this was substituted by a log house, in which his widowed mother and the remainder of her family took up their abode in the summer of 1820. Mr. Wells returned to Hartford in 1825, and married, immediately after which he set out with his bride for the far west. At Buffalo he engaged passage on a vessel, the captain of which agreed to land him on the shore opposite his residence in Brownhelm. He disregarded his promise, however, and carried Mr. Wells and wife to Johnson’s Island, thence to Sandusky, and finally landed them, with some twenty other passengers, at Cedar Point. Mr. Wells and wife started for their Brownhelm cabin on foot, but after traveling some ten miles were overtaken by Captain Day, who was returning to Black River from Sandusky on horseback. He kindly offered his place on the horse to the young wife, which was accepted; Mr. Wells and the captain traveling on foot. The end of the journey was duly reached, when two men with a skifi were sent after Mrs. Wells’ baggage, which was hardly equal either in value or quantity to the outfit of the modern bride.

John Graham

John Graham married a sister of Deacon Wells, and removed to Brownhelm soon after he arrived. He located on the same lot - lot four - and lived there the remainder of his life.

Abishai Morse

Abishai Morse came from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to Brownhelm in September, 1820 with his family consisting of his wife and five children. Eight were born subsequently. A horse team and wagon brought the family and their effects, and they were six weeks on the journey. They lived with Alva Curtis until their log house was completed. This stood a short distance east of the later residence of his son, Geo. G. Morse, west of the Vermillion. The log house was occupied until 1833, when the pleasant frame house was erected. He and George Hinckley had a saw mill on the Vermillion in an early day, where Heyman’s grist and saw mill later stood. They afterwards bought the old grist mill of Judge Brown, which had been removed to the same place from its original location near the Swift place. Mr. Morse died in December, 1835.

Ira Wood & Stephen Goodrich

Ira Wood came into the township in 1831. His first location was west of the river, where John Stevenson later lived. Stephen Goodrich came in at the same time, and they together established a tannery. Mr. Wood subsequently sold his interest to Goodrich, and moved to the east side of the river.

Early Life In Brownhelm Ohio


It was not a rare thing for young men to walk the entire distance from Massachusetts to Ohio, carrying a few indispensable articles upon their backs, in a white canvas knapsack. One or more of these knapsacks might be found in almost every neighborhood during the early years, cherished as mementos of such pedestrian feats. One young man brought in his ‘pack,’ from Massachusetts to this county, a pair of iron wedges, implements more valuable to him than a wedge of gold.

As successive families came on, they found shelter for a few weeks with those who had preceded them, until they could roll up a log house, roof it with “shakes” and cut an opening for a door. Then they would move into their new home and finish it at leisure. This finishing consisted in laying a floor of planks split from logs, puncheons as they were called; putting up a chimney in one end of the house, ordinarily of sticks plastered with clay, sometimes of stone, with a large open fireplace, generally made with a hearth and back, without jambs or mantel; adding at length a door, when there was leisure to go to Shupe’s Mill on Beaver creek, for a board; and a window of glass if it could be had - if not, oiled paper. A later stage in the operation consisted in “chinking” the cracks between the logs with pieces of wood on the inside, and plastering them without with clay mortar.

As leisure and prosperity followed, loose boards were laid above for a chamber floor, and in cases of unusual nicety and taste, the man devoted several evenings to hewing the logs on the sides within, and peeling the bark from the round joists overhead. Families unusually favored had rough stairs to the loft above, otherwise a ladder. An excavation below, entered through a trap in the floor, served as a cellar.

In rare cases, a family attained to the dignity of a sleeping room, separated from the common living apartment by a board partition; oftener chintz curtains, or sheets, or quilts, secured the privacy of the bed. These often disappeared as the wants of the family pressed, and the bed was left shelter-less.

The furniture of this primitive home was as simple as the domicile itself. The bedstead was made of round poles, shaved or peeled, the posts at the head rising above the bed and joined by a bar in place of a headboard. Elm bark often served in place of a cord. The trundle-bed was the same thing on a smaller scale. A table was extemporized from the cover of a box in which the family goods were brought from the east, while the box itself, with a shelf introduced, served as a cupboard for provisions. A shelf on the side of the room supported the crockery and tin ware, while a few stools, with now and then a back added, according to the mechanical skill or enterprise of the proprietor, served the place of chairs.

This simple house, with its simpler furniture, furnished a home by no means uncomfortable where health, and hope, and kindly feeling were the light of it. The skeleton frame house of the pioneer of modern days, without paint, or ceiling, or plaster, or tree to shelter it, will by no means compare with the snug, well kinked, substantial log house of the early settlers.

The first frame house in town was built by Benjamin Bacon, and the next by Dr. Betts. Mr. Bacon’s was the first painted one.

The first brick house in town, and indeed in the county, was built by Grandison Fairchild, in 1824. It was built with twenty thousand brick, at an aggregate cost of three hundred dollars. It later received some additions and improvements.

The first stylish house in town was Judge Brown’s, built in 1826, a grand affair in its day - a stately farm house.

The Grand Old Forest Of Brownhelm

The great drawback of the country, and at the same time its chief advantage, was the grand old forest with which the entire surface was covered, furnishing every variety of timber that could be needed in a new country, in quantities that seemed absolutely inexhaustible.

Along the ridges the chestnut prevailed, the trunk from two to four feet in diameter, and a hundred feet in height, furnishing the best fencing material that any new country was ever blessed with. The only discount on the chestnut was in the fact that the stump would remain full thirty years, an offense to the farmer, unless some strenuous means were used to eradicate it. The surest way was to undermine it, and bury it on the spot where it grew. The tree next in value for timber was the whitewood or tulip tree, of regal majesty, and second only to the white pine for finishing lumber, and for some uses superior to it. The oak and the hickory, in every variety and of magnificent proportions, were found everywhere; and on the lowlands and river bottoms, the black walnut, probably the most stately tree of Northern Ohio forests, inferior in magnificence only to the famous red wood of California. A single specimen was standing on the Vermillion river bottom which was said to measure fifteen feet in diameter above the swell of the roots. In the early years, this valuable fancy timber only ranked next to the chestnut, and there are barns and cowsheds in town roofed with clean black walnut boards, two feet and more in width.

With the first settlers, these magnificent forests were not held in high appreciation. They were esteemed usurpers of the soil, and the great endeavor was to exterminate them. Coming generations are not able to comprehend the labor involved in this enterprise, or the pluck that could accomplish it. A man was famous according as he lifted up axes upon the thick trees. No iron sinewed engine was at hand to take the brunt of the work. The pioneer himself, equipped only with his axe, a yoke of oxen and a log chain, had to attack, lay low and reduce to ashes the forests that overhung his farm. The men that accomplished this were sturdy in limb and strong in heart. A feeble race would have retired from the encounter.

The farmer of the present day, who has only to turn over the prairie sod, and wait for the harvest, can know little of the labor involved in settling a heavy-timbered country. Yet, if this had been a prairie country, its settlement must have been deferred full twenty years. The forests were a vast store house of material for building and fencing, and for fuel. The house in stern labor could accomplish everything. But for these forests each family would have required a capital of a thousand or two of dollars, and facilities for the transportation of lumber and other material would have been required, and a market where the products of the soil could be exchanged for these materials. The pioneer found his best friend in the forest, but the friendship was one of stem conditions, yielding its advantages only to the brave hearted.

It is a little sad to look back to the uncounted thousands of splendid trees of white wood, and oak, and ash, and hickory, and black walnut. and chestnut, which by dint of vast labor were reduced to ashes. But our case is not peculiar; at some such sacrifice every new country is settled. The divine wisdom that planned the continent, placed the prairies west of the forests, and the gold still farther on in the direction of the “march of empire.” Any other arrangement would have obstructed or greatly retarded the occupation of the country. The habit contracted in the clearing of the lands, the passion for destroying trees, has sometimes survived the necessity. The men who rejoiced over the fall of every tree are not likely to cherish with sufficient care the remnants of the grand old forests, or to replant on the grounds, cleared with so much labor, the trees necessary for shade, and ornament, and utility.

The gladdest sound of childhood was the crash of falling trees, and mother and children together rushed out of the cabin as each giant fell, to see how the area of vision was extended. Thus, slowly and with huge labor, the cleared circle expanded around each home. When ground was required for cultivation more rapidly than it could be thoroughly cleared, the plan of “girdling” or “deadening” was adopted, which killed the larger trees and left them standing. The falling limbs of the girdled trees destroyed the crops and sometimes the cattle, and often crushed the fences, and now and then the cabin itself; and a fire in a girdling on a windy autumn night was full of terror to a whole neighborhood. The loss of many a hay-stack, and burn, and house, was the price of the seeming advantage. Then, too, the final clearing away of the principal. The branchless timber, case hardened in the sun, was a more discouraging work than the original thorough clearing would have been. But these facts were only learned by experience, and so every settlement had its “girdling.”

It was a stern work, the clearing up and subduing of these beautiful farms, snatching meanwhile from among the countless stumps, by hasty culture, the support of the family, and in many cases the means of paying for the farm, or at least the interest on the purchase price. He was a fortunate man who brought from the east the price of his land. It many cases it made the difference between success and failure. It was very discouraging, after a struggle of years with hard work and sickness, to find the original debt increasing instead of diminishing; and it is not strange that here and there one sold his “improvements” for the means of conveying his family back to the eastern home, and retired from the conflict. The great majority stood bravely to the work, and achieved a satisfactory success.

Clothes & Shoes

It is difficult for the young people of this day to appreciate the conditions of living in the new settlement. We need to recall the fact that northern Ohio was farther from the appliances of civilization than any portion of North America is today. The canal through the State of New York was not in existence, had scarcely been dreamed of. Western New York itself was mostly a bowling wilderness. The articles needed in the new country could not be brought from the far east except at ruinous cost, and for the produce of the new country the only market was that made by the wants of the occasional new families that joined the settlement. These generally brought a little money, which was soon divided among their neighbors. The families in general came well furnished with clothing, after the New England fashion; but a year or two of wear and tear in the woods, sadly reduced the store. The children did not stop growing in the woods, nor in those days did they cease to multiply and replenish the earth. The outgrown garments of the older children might serve for the younger, but where were the new garments for these older children to grow into? Flax could be raised, and summer linen of tow, and bleached linen, and copper as stripe, could be manufactured, when hands and health could be found to do it.

Every woman was a spinner, but only here and there was a weaver, and each family had to come in for its turn. The old garments often grew shabby before the piece which was to furnish the summer wear of the family could be put through the loom. In autumn the difficulty was increased. The material for winter clothing could not be extemporized in the new country. Sheep came in slowly. At first they were not safe from wolves, and afterwards the new lands proved unwholesome to them, and they died, often suddenly, without visible cause. But when wool could not be obtained, the process of manufacture was slow and the time uncertain. The spinning was a matter that could be managed; the weaving involved uncertainty, and then the web must be sent to the cloth-dresser and bide its time. It might come home long after thanksgiving, long after winter school began. Thus an unreasonable demand was made upon the summer clothing, a demand which it could but poorly answer. It was not rare to see a boy at school with his summer pants drawn over the remnants of his last winter’s wear, a combination which provided both for warmth and decency.

Some families dispensed altogether with the clothier’s services, and by the aid of a butternut dye gave their cloth a home dressing, avoiding the loss of time and the loss of surface by shrinkage - both important elements in the solution of the problem of clothing the boys. The undressed cloth was indeed rather light for winter, especially when the extravagance of underclothing, or of overcoats for the boys was never dreamed of ; but it was very much better than none. The various devices for making clothing served its purpose as long as possible, were in use, and some ingenious ones, unknown at the present day. Pantaloons were given a longer lease of life by facing the exposed portions with home-dressed deerskin. This served an admirable purpose, as long as there was enough of the original garment left to supply a skeleton; but at length the whole fabric would break down together, like the “wonderful one horse shay.” Garments made wholly of buckskin were sometimes attempted, but after a single wetting and drying, they were as uncomfortable as if made of sheet iron.

Leather was scarce, and shoes as a consequence. Here and there was a tannery, after a year or two; but where were the hides? Cattle were scarce, and too valuable to be sacrificed for such small comforts as shoes and, tallow candles, and fresh beef. If some disease had not appeared among them, now and then, the case would have been still worse. But in these simple times, a hide could not be tanned in a day. After long months the leather came, but shoemakers, proverbially slow, were indefinitely slower, when their outdoor work absorbed their energies, and they resorted to the bench only for spare evenings and rainy days. The boy must go for his shoes half score of times, and return with a promise for next week. The snow often came before the shoes, and then the shoes themselves would be a curiosity - made as they were indiscriminately from the skins of the hog, the dog, the deer, and the wolf.

Sometimes when the household store of clothing seemed nearly exhausted, and every garment had served its generation in a half dozen different forms, a box would come from the east brought by some family moving into the new country well charged with half worn garments and new cloth, and a stray string of dried apples to fill out a corner, enough to make glad the hearts of the recipients for a year. “Mother says we are rich now,” said three little boys to a neighbor’s children, whom they met in the road, after the arrival of a box from Stockbridge. “Well,” was the reply, “we are not rich, we are poor, and poor folks go to heaven, and rich folks don’t.” This was a new-view of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and the boys went home quite crest-fallen. It relieved this experience of poverty that all shared in it. Many wants are merely relative. We need good things because our neighbors have them. But in those days, there were few contrasts to disturb even the poorest. Still, without any reference to others, there is some slight discomfort to a boy in calling at a neighbor’s house in such a plight that he cannot safely turn his back to the people as he leaves the house; or in crossing the meadow on a frosty morning with bare feet, stopping now and then to warm them on a stone not so cold as the grass.

Food

In the matter of necessary food, the new country was more generous. The soil yielded abundantly when once brought under cultivation, furnishing the substantials of life. The material of bread was abundant, but in a dry season, the wheat could not be ground. Brown’s mill, on the Vermillion, was the first to fail; then Shupe’s on Bearer creek, Stair’s at Birmingham, and last Ely’s at Elyria. The grists were ground in the order of their reception, and sometimes a family was obliged to wait weeks for its turn, as the water was sufficient only for an hour’s work in a day; and sometimes the mill rested for days in succession. Then it was no small enterprise to go to Elyria to mill. There was a time when there were not a half dozen horses in town. Mr. Peck had a span, Mr. Bacon one, and Judge Brown a span. These horses were freely lent, but they could not meet the requirements of the entire settlement, when the mill was a dozen miles away, and still be of any use to their owners. When one went to mill with a team, he was expected to carry the grists of his neighbors, or bring them home, if he found them ground. When the mills were at rest, it was allowable to borrow as long as there was any flour in the neighborhood, and when it failed, they enjoyed a week’s variety of “jointed corn” or pounded wheat. There was a little peril to young hands in this work of “jointing” corn, and many a thumb bared marks as the fossil bird tracks of the Connecticut sand stone.

Pork was the staple article in flesh, an ox or a cow being too valuable to slaughter. There was venison and other wild game - so plenty at times as to become a drug. Such meats were likely to be regarded as fancy adornments of a bill of fare, not satisfactory as an every day reliance. When an original Brownhelmer went to the city, he was not likely to call for venison, unless to recall the early experience, as the people of Israel used unleavened bread and bitter herbs at the Passover. He had done his duty in that line of eating. Roasted raccoon and baked opossum were never popular.

The supply of fruits was not abundant. Three years sufficed to bring the peach into hearing from the stone; hence, this was the earliest cultivated fruit. The diseases and insects that ruin the peach tree were then unknown. A wagon load of the finest peaches could be had for the gathering. Peach cider was attempted in various parts of the town, before the advent of teetotalism, but the cause of temperance never suffered from it. Apples and pears came on very slowly. The plan of grafting was not much in use, and the virgin soil which stimulated the growth of wood, was not favorable to early fruitage. Now and then a stray apple reached them from the orchard of Horatio Perry, or of Judge Ruggles in Vermillion. And what a flavor there was in that slice from a pippin, brought by Mr. Alverson, all the way from Stockbridge, in his knapsack! The first pear that the boy tasted he was not allowed to see. He was told to shut his eyes and open his mouth, and a bit of the delicious mystery was placed upon his tongue.

Sugar could be obtained from the maple then, but the maple tree was not abundant in the township. Many farms were entirely destitute of it, and few families made sugar enough for the year’s supply. It was not a rare thing for a family to be without sugar for months in succession. Honey and pumpkin molasses were used as substitutes for sweetening tea and making gingerbread, not quite equal to refined sugar; but they served to keep alive the idea of sweetness. Genuine tea, old or young hyson, was regarded as a necessary of life, and no well conditioned family could be found without it. But it would astonish a modern housekeeper to hear how small a quantity would meet the necessity. Children never needed it; it was not good for them; and a pound would supply a family for a year. Tea must have been a different thing in those times. A single teaspoonful, well steeped, would furnish sociability to a half dozen ladies of an afternoon; and the same pot, refilled with water, would charm away the weariness of the men folks, when they returned from their work. A cargo of such tea, in these days, would make the fortune of the importer. Store coffee was essentially unknown, and therefore not needed.

The table furniture was simple, and the frugal habits of New England on this point, favored the condition of the people. The food was placed in a common dish in the middle of the table, the potato mashed and seasoned to the taste, and the meat cut in mouthfuls ready for appropriation. A knife and fork at each place sufficed, or even one of them would do for the children. A drinking-cup or tumbler at each end of the table was ample. If bread and milk was the bill of fare, a single bowl and spoon could do duty for the entire family, going down from the oldest to the youngest. This may seem like imagination— it is simple fact. Commonly a tin basin or pewter porringer went around among the younger children; but as they grew older they preferred to wait, for the sake of using the crockery ware.

In those dark-walled log cabins, a single tallow candle would not seem so afford superfluous light of a winter evening; but only favored families could indulge the luxury. The candle was lighted when visitors came. At other times the bright wood fire was the chief reliance, and for sewing or reading a nicked tea saucer filled with hog’s fat, and a wick of twisted rag projecting over the edge. This was the classic lamp of the log cabin, open to accident indeed, but a dash of grease on the puncheon floor was an immaterial circumstance. Two dipped candles furnished the light for an evening meeting, the hour for which was very properly designated as “early candle lighting.”

Black Salts

The outdoor life of the early settlers presented some peculiar features. The chief item of farm work was clearing land. The first, and in some respects the most valuable products of this labor, was derived from the ashes of the burnt forests. Black salts, or potash, concentrated much value in a small bulk and hence would bear transportation to a distant market. For years it was the only article of farm produce which would bring money. Some trader at the mouth of Black river, or at Elyria, would pay one-third cash for this article, and the balance in goods. Thus the farmer could raise the money to pay his taxes, and a little more for tea and cotton cloth. which were always cash articles. Wheat and corn would not sell for cash, except occasionally a little to an immigrant, until about the time of the completion of the Erie canal. It was the height of prosperity when at length white flint corn came to sell at eighteen cents a bushel, and white army beans at thirty to fifty cents. From that day they were “out of the woods.”

Wild Animals

One of the features of early life here was familiarity with the wild animals that had possession of the country. The howl of the wolf at night was as familiar as the whip-poor-will’s song - not the small prairie wolf so well known at the west, but the powerful wolf of the forest, the black and the gray. They passed in droves by the dwellings at night, sometimes when the new comers had only a blanket suspended in the opening for the door. Sometimes they crowded upon the footsteps of a belated settler, passing from one part of the settlement to another, The boy crossing the pasture on a winter morning would often see the blind track of a wolf that had loped across the night before. If he had forgotten to bring in his sheep at evening, he might find them scattered and torn in the morning. A dog that ventured from the house at night, sometimes came in with wounds more honorable than comfortable. The wolf was a shy animal, seldom showing itself by day light.

Probably not one in a dozen of the early inhabitants ever saw a wolf in the forest; yet these animals roamed the woods around Brownhelm for years. Mr. Solomon Whittlesey once snatched his calf from the jaws of a wolf, at night, with many pairs of hungry eyes gleaming upon him through the darkness. In 1827, the county commissioners offered a bounty for wolf scalps - three dollars for a full-grown wolf, and half the sum for a whelp of three months. Whether any drafts were ever made upon the treasury does not appear.

Now and then a wolf was taken in a trap or shot by a hunter. Probably less than a half-dozen were ever killed in the township. About the winter of 1827-28, wolf hunts were organized in the region on a grand scale, conducted by surrounding it tract of country several miles in extent, with a line of men within sight of each other at the start, and approaching each other as they moved toward the center. The first of these hunts centered in Henrietta, and resulted in bagging large quantities of game, but never a wolf. A single wolf made his appearance at the center, and was snapped at and shot at by many a rifle, but he got off with a whole skin.

The sport involved danger from the cross-shooting as the line drew near the center, and Park Harris, of Amherst, mounted on a horse, received a shot in the ankle. To avoid this danger, the next hunt centered on the river hollow, about the mill in Brownhelm, but the scale on which it was arranged was too grand to be carried out. The lilies were too extended and broke in many places, resulting in gathering upon the flat a small herd of deer and a solitary fox, barely furnishing an occasion for the hundreds of huntsmen above to discharge their pieces, as the frightened animals escaped into the woods up the river. It was an utterly fruitless chase. A more exciting chase was the slave-hunt of a later day, in which the people bewildered and foiled the kidnappers.

Bears were less numerous than wolves, but they were perhaps more often seen. One was shot by Solomon Whittlesey, from the ridge, a little east of the burying ground. One of the trials of childish courage was to pass the tree against which tradition said that he rested his rifle in the shot. Another dangerous tree was the large basswood that leaned over the brook, a little to the south-east of Harvey Perry’s orchard. Mrs. Fairchild, going over the ridge to bring a pail of water from the spring, once drove a large black animal before her which she thought a dog until he scrambled up that tree when she returned home without the water. The tree stood close by the track that led to Mr. Peck’s, and it was a test of pluck for a child to pass that tree just as the evening began to darken. One day, one of a half dozen sheep was missing. In looking for the lost animal, a place was found where it seemed to have been dragged over the fence where a bear had made his feast, leaving the wool scattered about and a few large bones. The tracks were still fresh in the mud.

Such occurrences gave a smack of adventure to child life in the new country, and it was a matter of every day consultation among the boys, what were the habits of the various animals supposed to be dangerous, such as the wolf, the bear, the wild cat, and the panther, and by what tactics it was safest to meet them. Similar discussions were had in reference to the Indians, who had required a bad reputation during the war, then recent, with England. The prevailing opinion was, that any fear exhibited towards an Indian, or a wild beast, put one at a great disadvantage.

Deer were far more plenty than cattle, and the sight of them was an everyday occurrence. A good marks man would sometimes shoot one from his door. The same was true of wild turkeys. Raccoons worked mischief in the unripe corn, and a favorite sport of the boys was “coon hunting” at night, the time when the creature visited the corn. A dog traversed the cornfield to start the game, and the boys ran at the first bark of the dog, to be in at the death. When the animal took to a tree, it was cut down, or a fire was built and a guard set to keep him until morning, when he was brought down by a shot. The motive for the hunt was three-fold - the sport, the protection of the corn, and the value of the skin; the raccoon being a furred animal.

The greatest speculation in this line of which the town can boast, was made by Job Smith, “a man of some note.” He is said to have bought a quantity of goods of a New York dealer, promising to pay “five hundred coon skins taken as they run,” naturally meaning an average lot. The dealer, after waiting a reasonable time for his fur, came on to investigate, and inquired of his debtor when the skins would be delivered. “Why,” said Mr. Smith, “you were to take them as they run; the woods are full of them; take them when you please.” The moral of the story would not be complete with out stating that the same Job Smith was afterwards arrested as a manufacturer of counterfeit coin.

Thrifty men pursued the business of hunting as a pastime. The only man in town, perhaps, to whom it afforded profitable business, in any sense, was Solomon Whittlesey. Other professional hunters were shiftless men, to whom hunting was a mere passion, having something of the attractions of gambling. Mr. Whittlesey did not neglect his farm, but he knew every haunt and path of the deer and the turkey, and was often on their track by day and by night. He reported the killing of one bear, two wolves, twenty wild cats, about one hundred fifty deer, and smaller game too numerous to specify. One branch of his business was bee hunting, a pursuit which required a keen eye, good judgment and practice. The method of the hunt was to raise an odor in the forest, by placing honey comb on a hot stone, and in the vicinity another piece of comb charged with honey. The bees were attracted by the smell, and having gorged themselves with the honey, they took a bee-line for their tree. This line the hunter observed and marked by two or more trees in range. He then took another station, not on this line, and went through the same operation. Those two lines, if fortunately selected, would converge upon the bee tree, and could be followed out by a pocket compass. The tree, when found, was marked by the hunter with his initials, and could be cut down at the proper time.

Another form of the sport of hunting was even more classic, the hunting of the wild boar. For many years there was an unbroken forest, two miles in breadth, running through the township, between the North Ridge and the lake shore farms. This forest became the haunt of fugitive hogs that fed on the abundant mast, or, in Yankee phrase, “shack,” which the forest yielded. These animals were bred in the forest, and in the third generation became as fierce as the wild boar of the European forest. The animal in this condition was about as worthless, for domestic purposes, as a wolf, as gaunt and as savage. Still it was customary, in the fall and early winter, to organize hunts for reclaiming some valuable animal that had become thus degenerate. The hunt was exciting and dangerous. The genuine wild boar, exasperated by dogs, was the most terrible creature in the forest. His onset was too sudden and headlong to be avoided or turned aside, and the snap of his tusks, as he sharpened them in his fury, was somewhat terrible. Two at least of the young men, Walter Crocker and Truman Tryon, were thrown down and badly rent in such encounters, and others had narrow escapes.

The principal fishing ground of the early years was the “flood wood” of the Vermillion. The lake fishing is a modern discovery. It was not known that the lake contained fish that were accessible. Other sports and recreations were few and simple, most of them presenting the utilitarian element. There were logging bees to help a man who had been sick or unfortunate, raisings to put up a log cabin or barn, and militia trainings, which were entered into earnestly by men who had smelt powder in the recent war.

Early Farm Life Of Brownhelm Township Ohio

The appliances for farm culture were not the most efficient. Horses and wagons came slowly. Oxen and carts, however, furnished a very good substitute, indeed were best suited to the work in the midst of logs and stumps. They were not so convenient for trips to mill, or to market, or to meeting; but they were made to answer all these purposes. Indeed, a single ox, fitly harnessed, was sometimes made to do duty as a horse in plowing corn. The plow of these times was such as each farmer, possessing a little mechanical gumption, could make for himself. The share, as it was called by courtesy, was brought from the east, made of wrought iron and pointed with steel. The mould-board was split from an oak log and hewed into a slightly spiral form, and the whole was bound together by a bolt which extended from a block at the base up through the beam. The clear, shining furrow of the modern plowman could not follow such an implement. The sensation produced by the first cast-iron plow brought into the country brought people from miles to see it. The only drawback was that when the point failed, it could be replaced only by sending to Massachusetts, except that the proprietor chanced to be enough of a Yankee to Whittle out a mould for himself, and thus obtained a perpetual supply from a furnace at Elyria.

Mechanics and artisans appeared slowly. All the energies of the people were concentrated upon clearing the land, and they had no surplus means to support mechanics who should supply them with the refinements of life. Shoemakers were first called for, and some men found themselves shoemakers who had never been suspected, either by their friends or themselves, of any acquaintance with the art. Among the first who were recognized as accomplished artists in this line were Mr. Peck and his sons, Mr. Scott near the stone quarry, Mr. Wells on the lake, and afterward Mr. Hosford and his sons. Mr. Peck established a tannery, and could thus perform the whole labor of transforming into shoes the few hides which the murrain furnished to a reluctant community. The shoemaker often went from house to house making shoes for the entire family, an operation that was called “whipping the cat.”

The first blacksmith in town, and the only one for many years, was Deacon Shepard. A farmer like the rest, he spent his mornings and evenings and rainy days at his anvil. Such double service would seem too much for ordinary endurance; but the deacon walked among the people whom he thus served.

Seth Morse made rakes, scythe snaths and farm cradles. Mr. Blodgett manufactured brooms, and Solomon Whittlesey converted the farmer’s black salts into pearlash.

Alfred Avery was a wheelwright, and of course a carpenter, more strictly devoted to his trade than most of the first mechanics.

Thomas Sly, on the lake shore, was a carpenter, and his son James after him; on the south ridge, Durand and Hancock. Many of the farmers had sufficient skill in the working of wood to construct their plows, sleds, ox-yokes and ordinary farming implements, and to put an axle into a cart or wagon.

Ezekiel Goodrich, on the lake shore, was the first cabinet maker. There was no brick or stone mason in the early settlement. The only work in that line was the building of stick chimneys, and now and then one of stone and brick, and pointing the crevices of the log cabins every winter with clay - even the boys learned to do this. Such extempore mason-work was not always reliable. The stone chimney in the house built for Dr. Betts buried Mr. Pease in its ruins one day, when he was engaged laying the hearth. He was bruised, not killed.

The first flouring-mill was built by Judge Brown, in 1821, on the Vermillion, near the Swift place. After two or three years it was removed down the river and placed by the side of a saw mill, owned by Hinckley and Morse. It is the same mill later owned by Benjamin Bacon - the same perhaps in the sense that the boy’s knife was the same after having a new blade and a new handle. Its original infirmity was want of motive power in a dry time, a weakness from which it has never-fully recovered - the failure of the dam in a wet time, and the freezing up of the wheel in winter.

In the later 1800s there was one grist mill in the township. This was the mill of John H. Heyman, called the “Brownhelm Mills,” situated in West Brownhelm, on the Vermillion. The mill was erected in the fall of 1877, at a cost of some fifteen thousand dollars. There were three run of stones, beside a middlings stone. The mill was usually run by water power, but an engine had been added for use in dry seasons. The new process, called the “steaming process,” was adopted in the manufacture of flour, which consisted simply of steaming the wheat about six hours before grinding. About three hundred barrels of flour were now shipped per week, the principal market for which was Cleveland. It was one of the best establishments of the kind in this section of country. Mr. Heyman also had, in connection with his grist mill, a saw mill, run by the same motive power.

The first carding and cloth-dressing establishment was built by Uriah Hawley and Charles Whittlesey, on the Vermillion, but a little southwest of Brownhelm territory.

The first hotel in town was kept by Alva Curtis, first in his log house, afterwards in a more stately structure. It was always a pleasant home for a traveler. The sign itself gave notice that Sunday calls were not desired. Travelers were also entertained, for a consideration, at any house at which they felt inclined to stop. Mr. Curtis brought the first stock of goods into the town, and opened a store. His assortment was not extensive. Stores were afterwards opened at Black River, Elyria, South Amherst, North Amherst, and, in 1830, one by Ezekiel Goodrich, on the lake shore in Brownhelm, afterwards removed to the Ridge Road, near Mr. Curtis’.

Early Education In Brownhelm Township Ohio

About three years after these first settlers arrived in Brownhelm, Mr. and Mrs. William Alverson were living in a house of their own, a timber framed home built on the crest of a hill on the North Ridge. A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. This first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819.

In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. An old butternut tree stood near the door. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. Male teachers were often preferred in the winter months when the older students, no longer needed in the fields, returned to school and were of a more spirited humor. Fairchild received his tuition in chopping. Labor and produce were the currency employed for the exchange of values. Money was very scarce, and nearly all debts, except the one incurred in the purchase of lands, were paid in labor, its products, and those of the soil.

The site of the school was romantic. School children enjoyed sliding down the hill, wading in the brook, and floating logs down the creek. In winter children would skate upon the frozen stream.

The house was of modest dimensions, eighteen by twenty two, but was still thought by some to be too ambitious a disposition on the part of the people who lived on this road. Hence, the street was nicknamed Strut Street by a man who would have the house twelve feet square - a title it bore for many years. This school house was finished with a stick chimney and a broad fireplace without jambs. A board around the house, resting on pins projecting from the walls, served for desks. Whitewood slabs supported by pins made the seats. Loose boards lying on joists made a loft above, and an excavation beneath the floor, reached by raising a board, was thought by the children to serve as a dungeon for the punishment of offenders. In their childish simplicity, they supposed the excavation was made for the purpose, with malice prepense, but it was an accidental result of making mortar to build the chimney.

Children from every part of the town attended. There was no public school fund in those times and the teacher received his compensation in work in his chopping the next spring day for day the work, being distributed among the families according to the number of children attending the school. For years afterwards teachers received their pay in farm produce. One summer day the teacher placed her chair on the table, removed a board from the floor above, lifted the children up one by one and kept school up stairs - the excuse being that Colonel Brown's bull had been seen loose around the street that day and he might be wild.

In 1824 the "Yellow School House" was built a few feet west of the log one and the boys had the exquisite pleasure of rolling the old house down the hill. This yellow school house was an elegant one in its day, painted throughout and plastered. It was no ordinary school house, but a genuine academy furnished with unusual apparatus globes and wall maps, and pantograph and tables for map drawing and painting. This was the first attempt in the county, and indeed in a much wider region, at a school of anything more than a local character. It prospered for two or three years, attracting young ladies in the summer from all the older settlements within a distance of twenty miles - Milan, Norwalk, Florence, Elyria, Shelfield etc.

The first summer the house was without heat. In cool, wet weather the boys kept up an outdoor fire, and between the damp plastering within and the rain without some of the children took the ague and shook the summer through. In the fall a stove was bought - probably the first that was ever brought into town - a diminutive box stove eighteen inches in length, but a wonder to the children of the woods who had never seen a stove. Over that children shivered two or three winters until it was succeeded by a larger stove cast in plates but utterly destitute of clamping rods to hold it together. No man in the community knew that such a thing was necessary, and it was no rare occurrence for a long stick to thrust out the end plate and occasionally the whole fabric collapsed at once.

But such annoyances were but trifles and the Brownhelm school maintained a character above that of other schools in the country around. There was no other school in town the first dozen years or more. After three or four years it ceased to be anything but a local school. The old yellow school house eventually went off in a blaze.

In the summer of 1830, Rev Hervey Lyon opened an academy in a small house built for the purpose. This was kept up two years and attended by small number of pupils, a few of whom commenced Latin and Greek in preparation for college. This was the first classical school in the county and gave place to the Elyria high school established in 1832. This school enjoyed two years of great prosperity until the school at Oberlin was opened in 1834, which at once took the lead and has maintained it. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, was active in the founding of Oberlin College. Her nephew, James, was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century.

In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on North Ridge Road. The original red brick school was square in plan with four evenly spaced brick pilasters along the front, back and sides. Ventilation and daylight were introduced into the interior by tall, narrow, double hung windows. The building had a steeply pitched hip roof. In 1905, an addition was constructed on the west side of the 1889 building. The less steeply pitched hip roof was added at this time, featuring a deep overhang with carved wood bracked supports. Roof dormers and a cupola were added with this addition. In 1922, the Brownhelm School was renovated and further enlarged. The renovation included a new red brick Neo classical/Georgian Revival front facade. The round top glass transom and stonework detailing gave importance to the main entrance. The rear flat roofed brick and masonry addition added a large combination auditorium and gymnasium. 

Early Religion In Brownhelm Township Ohio

The early settlers were in earnest in religious matters, as well as in education. They were not all members of the church, but they had all been trained in New England habits, and prominent men like Alva Curtis and Colonel Brown, who did not at first have a standing in the church, still maintained family prayer and aided in the Sabbath services. A meeting was held at Judge Brown’s house by Deacon James the Sabbath before July 4, 1817. From that day on public worship has been held on the Sabbath, unless for a single day the violence of a storm may have prevented the gathering. The first meetings were held at Judge Brown’s, afterwards at Solomon Whittlesey’s, and then at Mr. Barnum’s, a little north of the stone quarry.

At this point the first meeting house was built in 1819, a neat and commodious structure for the new country, constructed of pealed logs, with a genuine shingle roof, and a stone chimney and fireplace. The infirmity of this part of the arrangement was that the mantle was of wood, which often took fire on a winter day, and one of the young men, Frederic Brown, or Chauncey Peck, or Rodney Andrews, was obliged to bring water or snow to extinguish it, while the rest of the congregation were occupied with the calculation how long it would be before the chimney would come down upon them. The seats were like those of the log school house, slabs on pins. The men were ranged on one side the house and the woman on the other, facing each other, with a broad aisle between, at one end of which stood the pulpit. As times improved and lumber became abundant, one man made a comfortable settee for his family; others followed his example, and in a few weeks the whole congregation were provided for.

A dedication of the house was by Deacon Beardsley, of Vermillion. Passing the building one day when it was nearly finished, he went in to see if the house would seem like the old log meeting house that he had known in Connecticut. The spirit of the Lord seemed to come upon him, and with a solemn prayer he consecrated the house, and received an assurance of great spiritual blessings to come soon upon the people. The promised blessing was not long delayed. In the great revival that followed, almost all the young people were gathered into the church.

The church was organized June 10, 1819, at the house of Solomon Whittlesey, and consisted of sixteen members, seven men and nine women, including Levi Shepard and Grandison Fairchild, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Fairchild. The ministers that officiated in its organization were Messrs, Treat and Seward, missionaries of the Connecticut Missionary Society, and members of the Portage Presbytery. The church was congregational, under the care of Presbytery, after the “plan of union.” Stephen James was the first deacon, and afterward Levi Shepard was elected; Grandison Fairchild was clerk. Rev. A. H. Betts, known through the country as Dr. Betts from the fact that he had studied medicine, was the first minister. He began preaching to the church in the fall of 1820, and was ordained and installed April 5, 1821. He continued pastor until, at his own request, he was dismissed in 1833.

The practice of the congregation was to meet for service at half past ten Sabbath mornings, to take a recess of an hour for rest; and for lunch which they took with them to meeting, visiting the spring under the rocks for water; and returning for afternoon service. There were only two or three families that lived near enough to go home at noon. A sight of the old congregation would be refreshing today - the women in their Sunday’s best, the men in their shirt sleeves, the boys and girls with bare feet. Mr. Peek, at the head of the high seat with his pitch pipe, Judge Brown next, and Dr. Betts in the pulpit.

After the Sabbath school was introduced, this was held at noon. The first Sabbath school was opened June 1, 1828, Sabbath morning in the yellow school house with about a dozen children and two teachers - Grandison Fairchild and Pamelia Curtis. It was afterwards transferred to the meeting house and held at noon. The chief feature of the school at that day was the learning and reciting of scripture, each scholar having the privilege of selecting his own passages and learning as many as possible. A single scholar would sometimes repeat more than a hundred at a lesson. One such in a class would nearly consume the hour.

Before 1830, the Sabbath school was reorganized under the superintendence of Frederic Brown who had been living at the east and returned all alive with interest in the Sabbath school work. The plan of limited lessons was adopted, and the Sabbath school became a religious power in the community of great efficiency. It was the time of a great religious movement in the land, in connection with which protracted meetings were first extensively introduced, commonly known as “four days’ meetings.” These meetings gathered not merely the communities where they were held, but people from neighboring towns attended in large numbers. They were not like the protracted meetings of the present day, occupying the evening with a single preaching service, preceded by a prayer meeting, leaving the people free during a large part of the day for their usual avocations. At these four days’ meetings the people gathered in the morning, taking a luncheon for themselves and for visitors from abroad, and the entire day was devoted to preaching, prayer and inquiry meetings. Evening meetings followed in the different neighborhoods.

Such a meeting was held at Brownhelm in the summer of 1831 under a bower, in the forest, just north of the stone quarry. The old meeting house was not large enough. The weather was propitious, and the meeting was fruitful of results. The religious interest which had been accumulating for many months, in connection with the Sabbath school work, reached its culmination. Many were greatly quickened in their religious life, and many more were induced to enter upon such a life. It was a season to be remembered for a generation. Similar meetings were held at Elyria and at Vermillion earlier in the season, and the influence extended through the region. Mr. Shipherd, of Elyria, Mr. Bradstreet, of Vermillion, Mr. Judson, of Milan, and several others, were recognized as leaders in the work. Probably no other such general movement has been known in this territory of northern Ohio.

The old log meeting house, about this time, became uncomfortable for winters and inadequate for summers, and the people moved towards a better house. It was soon found difficult to bring the interests of the lake shore and the ridge to harmonize upon a location. An old Stockbridge difficulty between the Plain and the North settlement found an echo here in the woods, and, perhaps, predisposed to a reproduction of the quarrel. After sundry meetings and conferences, the question was referred to a committee of discreet men from abroad. whose decision was to be final. This committee consisted of Deacon Crocker, of Dover, Deacon Clark, of Vermillion, and Deacon Fuller, of Berlin. They drove the stake in Grandison Fairchild's peach orchard, and there the church was.

The first attempt at a building was essentially a failure. Mr. Culver was the architect, a man of mechanical genius, but deficient in practical judgment; and the building, having no cross beams to support the roof, and relying solely on braced and trussed plates, commenced life with a broken back. After an inglorious career, it gave place to the cheerful and graceful structure built by Alfred Betts.

A Methodist Episcopal class was formed in West Brownhelm in about the year 1841, called the Brown helm class. The records of the church have not been preserved, and we could obtain but little information concerning it. The erection of a church building was commenced not long after the organization of the class, but was not finished, for want of means, for several years after. It was dedicated by Elder Lyon, of Sandusky.

The Evangelical Association was organized by Rev. Lutz in the year 1847. The earlier meetings of the society were held in the school house in the southeast part of the town. A house of worship was erected on Middle Ridge in 1865, at a cost of one thousand two hundred dollars. A Sabbath school was organized subsequently.

The German Reformed Church was organized in 1848. Services were held at first in the school house in district number one, and, subsequently, after the division of the district, the society purchased the school house and occupied it as a house of Worship until 1870, when the building at the station was   erected. The cost of this church was one thousand six hundred dollars. The first pastor was Rev. Meis.

The people of Brownhelm, in the early times, felt reasonable complacency in their social, literary and religious privileges, and in the good order and morality which distinguished the place. Crime was rare, and rowdyism almost unknown. If a boisterous company, now and then, passed along the streets, it was assumed that they were from Black River, a township which then embraced Amherst.

There was only one drunkard in town, even before the commencement of the temperance movement. But the temperance movement came none too soon. The habit of drinking at raisings and trainings, and of having liquors in the house for social occasions, and for private use, was universal; and the young were forming a taste for it. In 1827, some account reached Brownhelm of the growing interest at the east on the subject, and on Thanks giving day Dr. Betts preached on temperance. The same evening several boys from the neighborhood were spending the evening at Grandison Fairchild's, the older people having gathered at a neighbor’s house. The boys, after some conference on the subject, drew up a pledge, one or two of them having learned to write, and all signed it - a pledge to abstain from the use of all distilled spirits. This was the first temperance organization in the township, the first, in fact, in the county. This pledge was circulated, and led to the formation of a vigorous temperance society. From that time the use of spirits declined, until it was no longer furnished on public or social occasion, or kept for private use. Davis’ distillery went to ruin, and young men were saved who had been exposed to great danger.

Until about this time, a few Indians had lingered about the region, sometimes passing by in considerable parties from the neighborhood of Upper Sandusky. They were harmless after the war, and the only annoyance from them was their persistent begging for whiskey. They would stand an hour at the door, begging for “one little dram.” One day a party stopped at Grandison Fairchild's house and passed the bottle among themselves, the bottle being carried by a white man who belonged to the party. One young man, more gentle and amiable than the rest, said, when the bottle was offered to him, “No, whiskey wrestle we down once, never will again.”

Brownhelm Township Ohio: The Firsts

From February, 1817, until October, 1818, the town was a part of Black River. At the latter date, on petition of the inhabitants to the commissioners of Huron county, number six, the nineteenth range, together with the surplus lands adjoining west, and all lands lying west of Beaver Creek in number seven, in the eighteenth range - Black River - was organized into a separate township by the name of Brownhelm, a name selected by Colonel Brown. The first election for township officers was held at the house of George Bacon, in the spring of 1819. The vote was by ballot which resulted as follows: Anson Cooper, clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Levi Shepard, Calvin Leonard, and Alvah Curtiss, trustees; Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon, justices of the peace. That part of the present town of Black River lying west of Beaver creek was, in June, 1829, by order of the commissioners, detached from Brownhelm, and re-annexed to Black River.

The first justices of the peace in the township were Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon. The cases referred to their adjudication were few and simple. Sometimes it was found more convenient and economical to let an unusual rogue escape from the country, than to take him to the jail at Norwalk. It is related that a case of horse stealing once came before ’Squire Wells, of Vermillion. The culprit was a wandering preacher, but the evidence was strong against him. ’Squire Wells invited ’Squire Bacon to sit with him on the trial, to add weight to the court. The constables took the liberty of advising the prisoner to seek safety by flight, if during the progress of the trial a fair opportunity should appear. He seized the opportunity with great alacrity, and was followed with a shout, but not overtaken. The next day, ’Squire Bacon started for Cleveland, and spent the night at Dover. A preacher had come into town, and the people were gathering to hear him. Mr. Bacon went with the rest, and was surprised to see at the desk his horse-stealing acquaintance of the day before. He gave as his text “ Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” After the sermon, opportunity was given to any who wished to offer a word of exhortation. Mr. Bacon improved the opportunity by relating the occurrence of the previous day. The poor preacher started suddenly on his travels again, and at last amounts had not stopped.

The first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819. A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. 

The first physician in town was Dr. Weed, who died in the earliest years. Then Dr. Betts, as having some knowledge of medicine, visited the sick when no other physician could be had. Next, Dr. Forbes took up his residence for a short time, occupying the place later belonging to Samuel Bacon’s family. When there was no resident physician, Dr. Baker, of Florence, later of Norwalk, was chiefly relied on, and sometimes Dr. Woleott, of Elyria. Dr. Samuel Strong commenced his practice in Brownhelm, and continued a few years. Drs. Willard, Wigton, Page, and Chapman later practiced there.

In general, the early families brought their medicine bags into the new country, and administered to afflicted children glauber salts, ealomel and jalap, rhubarb and senna, with entire confidence, not to speak of Wormwood, thoroughwort, and other more odious herbs and compounds. Thus the children were taken through chicken-pox, measles, and whooping cough, in comparative safety. The ague was sometimes “broken” with Peruvian bark, but the more popular treatment was to wear it out.

The disease most dreaded in the new country was the milk sickness, or, as it was generally called, the sick stomach, commonly supposed to originate in some poisonous herb eaten by the cattle, and to be communicated by the use of the milk. The disease was exceedingly distressing and malignant, and oftener fatal than otherwise. No part of the town was entirely exempt, but the disease was developed especially in certain localities. The Barnum place, near the old meeting house, was remarkably afflicted with it; and three stones, side by side in the burying ground, mark the graves of three Mrs. Barnums, all of whom died of the disease. One autumn, four members of their families died within a week. The place was at length deserted, and the precise locality has never since been occupied by a family.

Those sickly seasons were sad periods in the early history of the place. The little community was sometimes gathered to a double funeral, as once at Judge Brown’s, when Sidney Brown and Oliver Cooley died, and afterwards at Mr. Barnum’s. The latest calamity of the kind was in 1838, when the entire Campbell family, of five persons, died in the space of a month. But in spite of this scourge, the early settlers probably suffered less from sickness than is common in a new country, and the boon of health was gratefully included in the enumeration of blessings on thanksgiving day.

The first burial in town was that of a daughter of Alva Curtis, Calista, who died at Mr. Onstine’s, in Black River, before the family reached the Brownhelm line. She was buried first on Solomon Whittlesey’s place, afterwards in the burying ground near Mr. Bacon’s. The small brown stone that marks the grave was the only one in the ground for many years. long since disappeared.

The first birth was in the Holcomb family, on the south ridge - a son, Henry Brown Holcomb. Next, Lucy Cooper, and a month later, Enos Peck. George Cooper was born in Euclid and may very properly be considered the oldest Brownhelm boy.

The first wedding was probably that of Joseph Swift and Eliza Root, who were married on the South Ridge, August 22, 1818. Soon after Grandison Fairchild's arrival, in 1818, one of the Onstine young men came to borrow five dollars, and satinet enough for a pair of pants, giving as a reason that he was going to have a little frolic over in Vermillion. His frolic was his wedding. Among the earliest marriages was that of Ezekiel Goodrich and Charlotte Brown, on the lake shore. Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had “stuck their stakes.” These were the earliest visits to the east. At a later day, the married people singly, not in pairs, went back to visit their old home, going by steamer to Buffalo, and by canal to Albany, astonished to traverse in ten days the road that it had taken seven weeks to pass over in coming into the wilderness. This going back to Stockbridge was a great event - the hope of the older, and the dream of the children. The young man, putting on his freedom suit, must go to Stockbridge to give it an airing and to attain the consequence essential to sustain his manhood. When he returned, his young companions gathered around him as a distinguished traveler, to hear all he could tell of the wonderful land. In this respect, the experience of children brought up in the simplicity of the new country can scarcely be repeated at the present day.

The advantages of cultivated society, talked of by parents, but never seen by the children, made a powerful impression. The steepled church. back in the eastern home, wrought upon the imagination of the child, as it could not if an object of daily sight. The thought of the college, to one who had only seen the log school house, was material for castle building by day, and for dreams by night.

Brownhelm Ohio History: Fourth Of July

In the early days of Brownhelm, there was an occasional patriot of the Revolution days who fired the youthful heart by tales of the times that tried men’s souls. Chief among these was George Bacon, Sr., reported to have been one of the Boston tea party, who brought honorable wounds from the battlefield and drew his pension from the government. Then there was Stephen James, with a bar sinister in his escutcheon, because he chanced to be of tary stock, still a true patriot, and a brave and stately man. It is not strange that the Brownhelm Rifle Company should make a figure in the general musters of those times.

The Fourth of July was observed with such humble appointments as were at hand. An old musket that had been through the wars was the loudest piece that could be found, and this was brought into requisition. One Independence day, John Curtis, an ambitious youth, brought out a cannon, which he had manufactured by boring a cylinder of oak and strapping it with iron bands from a wagon hub. The piece was well charged and placed on the bank of the river, near his father’s, in the midst of a crowd of boys, and fired with a slow match. The report was satisfactory, but the splinters flew in all directions and the iron bands were a total loss - they were never found. What was more important, no one was hurt.

As the community gained new ideas and advanced in civilization, these Fourth of July celebrations took on a philanthropic character, and represented the interests of the Sabbath school and the temperance cause. For such a gathering, the work on the first frame church was hastened forward to furnish a place for the meeting. One feature of the exercises brought out the Sabbath school. Each scholar and each teacher was provided with a passage of scripture, selected for the occasion, to be recited in order. It was in the days of President Jackson, who was especially obnoxious to true New Englanders. When Alva Curtis was called on, he startled everyone with the petition, “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” Probably the whole congregation could say amen, for only three Jackson votes were cast in the township.

Difficulties & Compensations In Early Brownhelm Township

If any one should infer that early life here was more unsatisfactory or less desirable than life at the present time, it would be a misapprehension. There were difficulties to be encountered, but they had their compensations. There was poverty to endure, but it was equally distributed, and was cheered with the hope of a good time coming, a poverty that stimulated to activity, and brought no degradation. There was want of many advantages which tend to the elevation and refinement of character; but such advantages had been enjoyed by the early settlers in their New England homes, and the results would not be wholly lost before they gathered about themselves those desirable things.

There was hard work to do, but it was well done; and such work with encouragement to do it is the best opportunity. Few of those who bore the burden and heat of the day ever regretted their calling; and most of them lived to reap a good harvest. Few of the original families lived without sad breaches in their circle. This is incidental to our mortal life.

Some of the families, prominent in the early times, have now no living representative in the population of the place. Among these are the families of Judge Brown, Alva Curtis, William Alverson and the Peases. Most of the others have still a posterity and a name among us. The town sent out many worthy children to help build up other communities, some to repeat, in a degree, the achievements of their parents, as pioneers at the west. The life encouraged in Brownhelm was of a quiet, unambitious type, and the results in general correspond. There were no public men to speak of; no politician seems to have sprung up - few looked for public position or office. But these are not the characters the world most needs. We can gather a few ministers of the gospel, a few teachers, and many worthy and useful people, and this is well.

Township & Village Unite

In the late 1950s the residents of Brownhelm voted to change zoning to permit a Ford Motor plant to be built. Brownhelm lost the plant to the City of Lorain in a heated court case when Lorain annexed property out as far as Baumhart Road. Fearing that Lorain could also annex Brownhelm, the township petitioned the Village of Vermilion for annexation.

Vermilion had not yet become a city, but was rather a village. In Ohio,  a certain amount of acreage and population is required to be a city. Cities cannot be forcefully annexed, but villages and townships can. If Vermilion were to become a city, it would end the threat of a “Lorain takeover”. Brownhelm Township was able to provide the necessary land area and population for Vermilion to become a city.

But many people in southern Brownhelm did not want to be annexed by Vermilion either. They feared a loss of their identity as a township. But without the northern section of the township, southern Brownhelm self-governance would be difficult.

And so a deal was made. Vermilion would annex the northern end of Brownhelm Township to acquire the necessary acreage and population for city status. But, the northern area would also continue to identify as Brownhelm Township. Brownhelm would receive some of the taxes from residents in the overlap area.

On December 21, 1959 the Village of Vermilion passed legislation to accept the petition and approximately 4,300 acres of Brownhelm Township became a part of Vermilion Village.

Today, residents in the overlap area are both residents of Vermilion Township and the City of Vermilion, with the right to vote for Township Trustees. Both communities benefit from being able to solicit state funding. The process is done by district, with Vermilion in district 5 and Brownhelm Township in district 9. Brownhelm Township can accept funds in its region, while Vermilion can accept funds for its region.

John Mercer Langston

John Mercer Langston was one of the most extraordinary men of the 19th century. Slim and debonair, and of mixed-raced parentage, Langston was highly educated, an expert in constitutional law, a community organizer and a gifted orator who sought to unify a divided country after the Civil War. He was the first African-American elected to a local office, winning the office of Clerk of Brownhelm Township on April 2, 1855.

Langston was the son of Ralph Quarles, a white plantation owner, and Jane Langston, a black slave. After his parents died when Langston was five, he and his brothers moved to Oberlin, Ohio, to live with family friends. Langston enrolled in Oberlin College at age 14 and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the institution. Denied admission into law school, Langston studied law under attorney Philemon Bliss of Elyria. Langston became the first black lawyer in Ohio, passing the Bar in 1854.  He became actively involved in the antislavery movement, organizing antislavery societies locally and at the state level. He helped runaway slaves to escape to the North along the Ohio part of the Underground Railroad.

Langston married Caroline Wall, a senior in the literary department at Oberlin, settled in Brownhelm, OH and established a law practice. He quickly involved himself in town matters.  In 1855 Langston became the country's first black elected official when he was elected town clerk of the Brownhelm Township.


Langston moved to Oberlin in 1856 where he again involved himself in town government. From 1865 - 1867 he served as a city councilman and from 1867-1868 he served on the Board of Education. His law practice established and respected, Langston handled legal matters for the town. Langston vigilantly supported Republican candidates for local and national office. He is credited with helping to steer the Ohio Republican party towards radicalism and a strong antislavery position. He conspired with John Brown to raid Harpers Ferry.


Langston organized black volunteers for the Union cause. As chief recruiter in the West, he assembled the Massachusetts 54th, the nation's first black regiment, and the Massachusetts 55th and the 5th Ohio.  He was a founding member and president of the National Equal Rights League, which fought for black voting rights. During the Civil War Langston recruited African Americans to fight for the Union Army. After the war, he was appointed inspector general for the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal organization that helped freed slaves.  He was the first African American to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Selected by the Black National Convention to lead the National Equal Rights League in 1864, Langston carried out extensive suffrage campaigns in Ohio, Kansas and Missouri. Langston's vision was realized in 1867, with Congressional approval of suffrage for black males.


Langston moved to Washington, DC in 1868 to establish and serve as dean of Howard University's law school — the first black law school in the country. He was appointed acting president of the school in 1872. In 1877 Langston left to become U.S. minister to Haiti. He returned to Virginia in 1885 and was named president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University). In 1888 he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as an Independent. He lost to his Democratic opponent but contested the results of the election. After an 18-month fight, he won the election and served for six months.  Langston was the first black Congress member from Virginia and a diplomat. He lost his bid for reelection. 


The town of Langston, Oklahoma, and Langston University, is named after him.  The John Mercer Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio, is named in his honor along with Langston Middle School in Oberlin, Ohio, the former John Mercer Langston High School in Danville, Virginia, and John M. Langston High School Continuation Program in Arlington, Virginia. His house in Oberlin is a National Historic Landmark.  Langston was the great-uncle of poet Langston Hughes.


It took 153 years to get from John Mercer Langston to Barack Hussein Obama, a journey that endured the dashed hopes of Reconstruction and the oppression of Jim Crow to arrive at a moment that has stunned even those optimistic about America's racial progress. 


The John Mercer Langston Ohio Historical Marker is located at Brownhelm High School, 1940 North Ridge Road, Vermilion, Ohio.  The marker reads:
 "John Mercer Langston" The first African-American elected to government office in the United States, John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) won the office of Clerk of Brownhelm Township on April 2, 1855. Born in Virginia and raised in Chillicothe, Langston graduated from Oberlin College in 1849 and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854, becoming Ohio's first black attorney. He served as the first president of the National Equal Rights League in 1864, and subsequently as professor of law, dean, and acting president of Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1890, he became Virginia's first black congressman. Throughout his career Langston set a personal example of self-reliance in the struggle for justice for African-Americans. 

The Haunting History of Gore Orphanage & Swift's Hollow

It's a nightmarish scene in the countryside of Vermilion on Gore Road over one hundred years ago.  A gigantic fire engulfs an old orphanage burning dozens of young children alive.  Desperate to escape the inferno, the children on the second floor found the stairs blocked by flames.  Dreadful screams of the children trapped inside the blazing building pierce the ears of horrified onlookers unable to stop the carnage.  The deadly destruction continues until the screams finally fall silent and the only sound that lingers is the crackling and roar of the hellish flames. The smoke ascends into the night sky, carrying with it the souls of over 100 poor orphan children. The building is soon reduced to a pile of  glowing embers with only a remnant of the foundation and stone pillars forever preserved for future generations to happen upon.

Were the spirits of the helpless children extinguished with the flames, or do they still cry out in the middle of the night  from beyond the grave?  Do the lost souls wander the area, forever tortured by a reality too difficult to accept?  Was the  fire sparked by an orphan boy dropping a lamp? Or perhaps it was intentionally set by Old Man Gore, the abusive man who ran the institution, for insurance or just plain sadistic torture?

So is the legend of Gore Orphanage.

The Real Story of Gore Orphanage & Swift's Hollow

For over a century visitors to Gore Orphanage Road have reported strange experiences of glowing lights, apparitions and  chilling cries of unseen children.  The area is said to be one of the most haunted locations in Ohio.


Despite the inaccuracies of the Gore Orphanage legend, the true tale of the institution and the Swift's Hollow mansion are more haunting than fiction.  Over the course of time, three tales of terror have been woven into one horrific legend of torture, fire and the paranormal.

Light of Hope, the actual name of the orphanage, was established in 1902 by a religious zealot named Reverend Johann Sprunger.  The orphanage was located on Gore Road.  The road was originally laid out along the boundary line dividing Lorain County from its western neighbor, Huron County. When a surveying error was discovered, a thin strip of land resembling the gore of  a dress had to be annexed to Lorain.  Due to the popular association of the institution with the road, the name of the street came to be known as Gore Orphanage Road - a fitting name for the location of a now infamous orphanage with a hellish history.

Johann Sprunger and his wife Katharina moved to the Vermilion area after their former orphanage in Berne, Indiana was destroyed by fire.  Katharina was the daughter of Christian P. Sprunger.  Though no explanation has ever been given regarding Katharina's surname being the same as her husband, a diary of a worker at the former Light of Hope Orphanage in Berne states that the orphanage was run by "Brother and Sister Sprunger."  Three orphan girls were reported to have perished in the original Light of Hope fire.  Two of Sprunger's former Indiana businesses had also ended by fire.  Prior to moving to Ohio the couple also lost their seven year old daughter, Hillegonda, and a son, Edmund, died at birth. The deaths appeared to spark a passionate obsession for religious pursuits in the couple.

The new orphanage site, just outside of Vermilion, consisted of four sets of farm buildings and covered 543 acres.  An abandoned mansion was also located on the property.  The once magnificent Greek revival house was built in the mid-nineteenth century by Joseph Swift, a successful farmer. Its many rooms were appointed with elaborate furnishings, ornate woodwork, marble columns, and other lavish decorations.  But to the Swift mansion soon came bad luck.  In 1831, Swift's 5 year-old daughter Tryphenia died.  In 1841, Swift's 24 year-old son, Heman, also died.  Soon after Swift's fortunes dried up due to poor investments in the railroad business.  He sold the home to Nicholas Wilber, a renowned Spiritualist. Mysterious rituals and seances were said to be held regularly in the secluded mansion home conjuring up the spirits of deceased children.  The ghosts of children were said to appear frequently at the seances held in a special room of the home.  Wilber's children were rumored to be psychic and could communicate with the ghosts of dead children.  While records and gravestones claim that four Wilber grandchildren died from a diphtheria epidemic after the Wilbers moved from the home, residents insisted that they died at the Swift mansion and were buried there.  The home was abandoned in 1901, and teenagers almost immediately began taking trips to the site, daring each other to enter the infamous haunted home.

Reverend Sprunger did not utilize the abandoned home for the new orphanage. Instead, he attempted to build a new, self-sustaining religious community on the property. He and his co-workers were devout Bible-believing Christian people.  A chapel room was located in the boy’s schoolhouse for frequent religious ceremonies.  Up to one hundred and twenty children were inmates of  the orphanage at one time. Boys lived at a farm called the Hughes farm and girls at the Howard farm.  The orphanage also housed a small printing press used to print their own school books, as well as a paper entitled "Light of Hope."

But rumors of darkness and despair soon plagued the Light of Hope orphanage.  Orphan children ran away from the home, often wading through the Vermilion River to escape to Vermilion.  The children told horrific stories of abuse, neglect and slave labor.  The children were said to eat a diet of calves lungs, hog heads and sick cattle - if they were fed at all.  Corn was boiled in the same pot used to boil soiled underwear.  Although there were cows on the farm, children were said to often only be given butter once a week and occasionally pepper or sugar.

The children's rooms were infested with rats and vermin. On occasions, rats crawled onto the beds and bit children while they lay asleep.  There was said to be only one bath tub for the boys, which they were allowed to use once every two weeks and had to use the same water.

Children told stories of Sprunger and the farm overseers beating them with a strap until great raw welts appeared on their bodies. Sprunger would also rent out the inmates of the home to neighboring farmers.

Illnesses and disease were alleged to be treated only by prayers.  Witnesses stated the children received a lack of regular schooling.

In 1909 an investigation was conducted, but because the State of Ohio had no laws or regulations pertaining to the operation of such institutions, nothing formally could be done about conditions at the orphanage.  The Sprunger's admitted to much of the allegations against them.

Shortly before the investigation, in 1908, a disaster took place in the town of Collinwood, some forty miles east of Vermilion. 176 elementary school students were burned or  trampled to death when they became trapped in a stampede situation and couldn’t escape a fire that was consuming their school.  The children began descending down the stairs to the exit after the fire alarm was sounded, but the front stairwell was blocked by flames. According to witnesses, the children at the front broke from the lines and tried "to fight their way back to the floor above, while those who were coming down shoved them mercilessly back into the flames below." Those who made it to the rear exit found it locked. Outside rescuers unlocked it but found it opened inward, so it was impossible to move against the press of dozens of  desperate bodies.  The fire swept through the hall, springing from one child to another, catching their hair and the dresses of the girls. The cries of the children were dreadful and haunting.  The school's janitor, a German-American named Herter, was accused of setting the blaze (though he  lost four children in the fire and was badly burned trying to rescue one), and for a time he was detained in protective custody to keep residents from lynching him.

The horrific tale of  this event is thought to have been relocated when families of the Collinwood area (now East Cleveland) moved further west of Cleveland.  Some historians believe the horrid memories of such an event were too disturbing for Collinwood residents to bare and were thus "relocated" outside the area.  What better place for the terrifying memories to descend than the already legendary site of Swift’s Hollow and Gore Orphanage.   In fact, the tragedy brought about the end of the town of Collinwood.  As a result of the incident, unable to sufficiently guarantee fire safety resources for its residents, voters approved an annexation of Collinwood into Cleveland within two years of the fire.

Mr. Sprunger died two years after the investigation, and the doors of the orphanage permanently closed in July of 1916 after years of financial troubles. Pelham Hooker Blossom of Cleveland bought the Orphanage property, leased it to farmers for a period, then finally sold the land.  The Hughes House is all that remains of the Sprunger property. Part of the orphanage buildings burned and the rest were torn down.

The children of the Light of Hope orphanage were dispersed throughout the community or returned to their relatives or guardians and the nightmare was over for the children of the Gore Orphanage.  Many were too afraid to recount the conditions they endured at the institution. The few that had nowhere else to go were taken back to Berne, Indiana by Mrs. Sprunger.  It was exactly 13 years after it had first opened.

Swift’s Hollow is the location most often visited by those seeking a taste of the supernatural. A graffiti covered sandstone column marks the entrance of the area, which contains the foundations of this once magnificent mansion.  Today all that remains of the Swift Mansion are sandstone blocks from its foundation. Located deep in the woods, these remnants are now scrawled with graffiti left behind by late night visitors. They stand in the forest like guide stones for all those daring enough to seek an experience of the legend of the Gore Orphanage.

The Swift's Hallow mansion was never used as part of the orphanage. Instead it became a Mecca for late night vandals, and it is presumed that one of them was responsible for burning the house down in late 1923.  Early legend held that Mr. Wilbur helped the Sprunger's build the Light of Hope orphanage after loosing his own grandchildren.  Mrs. Wilbur was said to have gone insane over the tragedy. 

Stories were told that she'd set the table three times a day and passed food to the children as if they were sitting there.  At night she would light a lamp and say, "Time for bed, children come on," and then she'd put the kids to bed.  Some said the children were psychic and could bring children back after they died.

In the early 1900's teenagers began to visit the home. In time they began to take their first automobiles to Gore Road to attempt to get them up the steep ravine without stalling and to negotiate the sharp curves without crashing. The true test of  bravery though was to enter the Swift Mansion at night and prove you weren't afraid of the haunted house.

The location of the orphanage is on Gore Orphanage Road approximately 1/4 mile north of Rosedale just across the small Vermilion River Bridge. It is just past the spot where Gore Orphanage and Sperry Roads meet in the hollow. The remnants of the orphanage cannot be seen from the road, but substantial remains abut Sperry Road hill.

Though there is no proof that any deaths actually occurred at the "Gore Orphanage" or Swift's Hollow, the chilling memories of torture, abuse and occult activity are haunting in their own rite.  Perhaps the lost souls of the children of Collinwood did descend upon the infamous area where many of the living are known to go in search of the spirits of forgotten children.  Perhaps they seek the ghosts of the Wilber children to be brought back to the land of the living.

Paranormal investigators say the ghosts of Gore Orphanage Road may actually be esoteric "imprints" - a kind of snapshot in time. Frequently, violent or traumatic events seem to release an energy that imprints the action on a place or object. In this kind of haunting, incidents repeats themselves like a videotape rewound and played over and over again. These hauntings can be seen, heard, felt or even smelled. Tragic imprints can even "relocate" themselves to other areas of high paranormal energy.

Reverend Sprunger's body was buried in a cemetery in Indiana, but some say his soul still wanders the grounds of the Light of Hope religious compound he founded on Gore Orphanage.  Katharina Sprunger moved back to Indiana in 1916 and never returned to the area, at least not prior to her death in 1953.

Ghostly apparitions, balls of lights, haunting screams of children and visions of fire have been reported by many a visitor to Gore Orphanage Road.  Many claim to have found the dusty fingerprints of children when returning to their cars.  Whatever the true story of Gore Orphanage, there's little doubt that it has well earned its reputation as the most haunted area in Ohio.
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