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Reed's Illustrated History of Montgomery County
Its Pioneer History






The land lying between the Miami Rivers, known as the Miami country, was surveyed in the year 1788, under the auspices of the government of the United States. During the same year, John C. Symmes entered into a contract with the authorities of the government for the purchase of one million acres of the land lying between the Miami Rivers, and soon after began arrangements for settling the country. About this time a party of enterprising gentlemen entered into an agreement with Mr. Symmes for the purchase of lands at this point. They laid out a town which was called Venice. The projectors of this enterprise intended to form a settlement at this point, at the same time that those upon the Ohio River were settled. The " noble red men " of the forest, however, not relishing the idea of civilization making such rapid strides, and thereby depriving them of their accustomed freedom and their forest homes, manifested a disposition so decidedly hostile that it was not deemed prudent to extend the settlements so far into the interior, as it would be difficult to secure them against the attacks of the Indians, so the one on the present site of Dayton was abandoned for the time.

In the year 1789 or 1790, several stations were established in the Miami country besides those points first settled by the whites, which were Cincinnati, Columbus, and North Bend. Those stations established further up in the country were, of course, more exposed to the attacks of the Indians who became very troublesome, annoying the peaceful pioneers to such an extent that General Hamar marched upon their towns on the Maumee River in the latter part of the year 1790. If General Hamar anticipated an easy victory at all, his anticipations failed in realization, as, after two unsuccessful battles, he 'was compelled to return home, having accomplished nothing save to inflame the Indians still more by his invasion. They, therefore, sought to revenge themselves by infesting the newly-made settlements constantly, and in such numbers that no person could leave the station without endangering his life or his freedom. In the first part of the year 1791, some four hundred of the painted fiends, thirsting for revenge, assailed Dunlap's Station, on the Great Miami River. This battle was prolonged over twenty-four hours, and resulted in the defeat of the enemy, who failed to take the station.

During this season several persons were killed in the neighborhood of the settlement. On one occasion a number of men were massacred near the mouth of Deer Creek while on their way from Cincinnati to Columbia, in a canoe.  This was but one of the many dastardly acts committed by the Indians. They had become" so bold that they were seen lurking around Cincinnati during the day, and at night skulking through the settlement. Their warlike demonstrations prevented the formation of new settlements, but those already began grew daily in strength and were soon able to cope successfully with their adversaries.

In the year 1791 the army of General St. Clair made a raid into the Indian country and built Ft. Hamilton (where Hamilton now stands), and another fort (where the town of Eaton stands at present.) General "Wayne soon afterward built six others, making a chain of posts extending from Cincinnati to the mouth of the Auglaize.

General "Wayne's victory over the Indians on the 20th of August, 1794, brought about a general treaty with all the hostile tribes, which was concluded on the 3rd of September, 1795. Peace was then established, boundaries were defined, and the country was then prepared for speedy settlement. About two weeks subsequent to the signing and settling of the treaty, Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson, Jonathan Dayton, and Israel Ludlow made a contract with John C. Symmes, who assigned them off his claim two ranges of land, extending from one Miami to the other, upon their agreeing to make three settlements within their purchase. One was where Dayton now stands, one upon the banks of the Little Miami, and a third on the banks of Mad River. On September 21st, two parties of surveyors left Cincinnati, one party under Daniel C. Cooper, to survey and partially clear a road from Cincinnati to the mouth of Mad River, while the other party, under the control of John Dunlap, was to run out and define the boundaries of their purchase.

Captain Dunlap's party were accompanied by a man named Bedell to a point, about six miles west of Lebanon, where he intended to make a settlement, the first one made in advance of the old stations. Previous to this time the frontier in that direction was a station only eleven miles from Cincinnati, on Mill Creek. At that point the surveying parties separated, the Dunlap party arriving at the point where Dayton now stands on the 27th day of September. Shortly after Mr. Cooper's party arrived in company with some explorers and home-seekers from Kentucky. They had heard of this fertile region between the Miami Rivers, and purported settling there permanently. The next day they took up their line of march up the river, but penetrated no further than one or two miles. They found the land thickly covered with a growth of vines and rank weeds, which so impeded their progress that they became discouraged, abandoned the idea of settling in Ohio, and returned home.

Mr. Cooper's party also returned to Cincinnati, while Captain Dunlap and his men finished the survey, which detained them about a week longer. During this time the camp was visited by the Indians, who still entertained a strong dislike for the pioneers, and their self-appointed task of settling and civilizing the country. At this time they carried oft" all the camp provisions, but inflicted no personal injuries. The party completed their survey and returned to Cincinnati on October 6th. Mr. Ludlow, one of the proprietors, came up from Cincinnati about November 1st and began laying out the town, and after finishing the work he gave to the town the name of Dayton, on the 4th day of November, 1795.

The proprietors, in order to secure a speedy settlement, offered certain privileges and donations to those who would volunteer as settlers. This inducement influenced forty-six persons to pledge themselves to this effect. To each man was apportioned two lots, and he was accorded the privilege of purchasing one hundred and sixty acres of laud at the rate of one French crown per acre. Out of the forty-six, we are sorry to state, only fifteen fulfilled their promises. On April 1st, 1796, four of them arrived-in a skiff; after a passage of ten days down the Ohio and up the Miami Rivers. Two or three had taken up their abode here the previous winter, and the remainder soon followed with four more, who had made arrangements with the owners previously, making nineteen persons, who entitled them-selves to donations of town lots by becoming volunteer settlers. The names of those nineteen sturdy pioneers are as follows, to-wit:

William Gahagan, Samuel Thompson, Benjamin Van Cleve, "William Van Cleve, Solomon Goss, Thomas and John Davis, John and James McClure, Daniel Farrell, William and Solomon Hamar, Abraham Grassmire, — Dorough, William Chenoweth, James Morris, and George and William Newcom. Below we give a few brief biographical sketches of some of these early settlers:

Samuel Thompson was a native of Pennsylvania. He removed to Cincinnati at an early day.

Benjamin Van Cleve was a young man about twenty-five years of age at this time. After the organization of the county he was appointed County Clerk. He was also the first postmaster at Dayton, and always, until his death, occupied a prominent position in the county.

William Van Cleve was younger, than his brother Benjamin. He commanded the Dayton rifle-men, who, during the year 1812, took an active part in the protection of the frontier. The McClure brothers were from Western Pennsylvania.

Daniel Farrell came here from Western Virginia. He was about fifty years old at the time.

William Hamar was probably from Maryland. He was the well-known preacher of Methodist persuasion. Most of those people believing in this form of worship formed a colony of their own on the banks of the Mad River. The services were usually held at the house of their minister.

William Gahagan was born in Ireland, and came to Cincinnati from Pennsylvania.

Thomas Davis was born in Wales. He also removed to this vicinity from Pennsylvania.

Abraham Grassmire was born in Germany. He was by trade a weaver.

——— Dorough was a miller. His Christian name is not positively known.

James Morris was from Pennsylvania.

George Newcom was born in Ireland. Colonel Newcom, as he was usually known, was Sheriff' of the county, Member of the Assembly, and State Senator.

About the time when the first residents of this village settled here a few families located where Miamisburg now stands. The place then bore the euphonious name of Holes Station. A few also settled where Franklin is now located, and some on the big prairie below Middletown. The same year Jonathan Mercer settled upon Mad River, about ten miles above Dayton.

The people around Mercer Station seemed to be objects of spite and bitter hatred to the Indians. At one time the worthy, settlers became so greatly alarmed by the abusive and threatening conduct of the red devils that they abandoned their pioneer homes, believing it hazardous to remain longer. In a short time, however, they all returned. The other settlements were molested by the Indians no farther than by an occasional raid upon their horses and provisions.

All that land lying on the west side of Dayton, now occupied by fine residences, was the fertile corn-fields of our early settlers. Previous to the production of corn upon this fertile plain, provisions of this kind were transported hither from Cincinnati. Flour, in Cincinnati, was worth about ten dollars per barrel. Corn-meal brought two dollars per bushel, while for transportation it cost about two dollars and fifty cents per hundred weight; but since the first harvest the importation of provisions from another section to this has been necessary. It took but a short period of time for the sturdy pioneer to overcome all of the disadvantages incident to a new country, and settlers flocked hither from all sections, taking up the laud adjacent to Dayton, which was soon transformed and the foundation, laid for the beautiful and highly productive farms, which rank to-day among the finest in the country.

Soon after, however, there came to light a fact which brought consternation to the hearts of these people, whose homes were bought by hard labor and honest toil. A question arose as to the validity of the titles, not only of the lots in town, but all the land around it. This caused an entire cessation of emigration for some time. The settlers had made their purchases and expected to receive their titles from Messrs. St. Clair, Wilkinson, Ludlow, and Dayton, the assignees of Symmes. Mr. Symmes, however, discovered at this time that he had undertaken a larger scheme than he could carry through. He could not fulfill his contract and make payment for the whole of his purchase.

The government at length granted him a patent for the land he was able to pay for, and took back the balance, "which included the two ranges of land which he had assigned and set over to the said Messrs. St. Clair, Wilkinson, Ludlow, and Dayton. When this became generally known the settlers became much alarmed at the danger which apparently threatened their lands, the loss of which included the labor expended upon it, and the hopes of reaping the benefit of this labor by gaining a home and becoming one of the settlers of this fertile country were suddenly destroyed by this unwelcome and unexpected report This handful of hardy, honest and enterprising men had gone into the forest, far in advance of the frontier; had encountered untold disadvantages, obstacles, and privations, but nothing daunted; they had pushed on, expended their limited means, worked hard, both early and. late, with always before them as their beacon light the bright hope and cheering prospect of making a thrifty and beautiful home for their families and seeing their sons in time, bearing their share of the burden, and receiving their share of the reward. To see their hopes which had buoyed them up throughout their countless trials undermined by so great a catastrophe as that looming before them now would have daunted hearts less courageous than were those of the brave PIONEERS OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY!

As it was, some who had located here migrated to other sections where this difficulty did not exist, while this unhappy state of affairs prevented many from settling here who would otherwise have done so. The title under Symmes had failed, and the government had not yet made arrangements for the sale of the land at the public land office. Every thing was at a standstill. Those here were nearly disheartened, and no inducement was offered for emigrants. This condition of affairs lasted for some time. At length the inhabitants petitioned Congress to do something for them.

On the second day of March, 1799, Congress passed an act, known as the preemption law, by which all persons holding a written contract with John C. Symmes (made previous to April 1st, 1797) for the purchase of land between the Miami Rivers, not comprehended in his patent, were entitled to a preference, in purchasing the same land of the United States at two dollars per acre, to be paid in three years. This law did not afford relief, and but very few took advantage of it, or purchased land.

Again, in the summer of 1799, the inhabitants of the Miami country became alarmed at the threatening attitude of the Indians, who, it was thought, were influenced by the British traders among them. who had become dissatisfied with the disposition made of the land and the boundaries established. The alarm was so universal that the people in all the different settlements built block houses for protection against the enemy. But, to the great relief of all, the Indians remained quiet, and once more a feeling of security and peace prevailed. One block house was built at Dayton, near the head of Main street, on the banks of the river.

On the third of March, 1801, Congress passed another preemption law, extending the privilege granted by the first act to all persons who had made a written contract with John C. Symmes, or his associates, or had made payment of money for land, giving longer time to prove claims and make payments. In addition to paying two dollars per acre they agreed to pay surveyor's fee and a few incidental expenses. The original piece of land sold to John C. Symmes was two-thirds of a dollar per acre, and the purchase of the assignees was estimated the same. Accordingly the settlers who had bought land and lost it, re-purchased the same property at a small advance on the original sum—but in no ease did it amount to two dollars per acre. Therefore, although the pre-emption afforded them considerable relief, of which, under existing circumstances, they were glad to avail themselves, it did not place them in so good a situation as the contract made with Messrs. St. Clair, Wilkinson, Ludlow and Dayton. In addition to this misfortune, those, who becoming volunteer settlers, had entitled themselves to donations, lost these gratuities, and were only suffered to retain their lots at the price of two dollars per acre in preference to any other person.

St. Clair and his co-workers might have availed themselves of the law and entered the entire tract, which Judge Symmes had relinquished to them, but in this case the government required two dollars per acre instead of sixty-five cents, which latter were the terms of their purchase of Mr. Symmes.

This advance in price, and mayhaps the fact of their, having disposed of considerable land at a much lower figure and would be obliged to complete the titles to the purchasers at a positive loss to themselves, determined them to abandon their speculation and decline availing themselves of the aforesaid law. They therefore notified the commissioners who had been appointed by the government to examine and decide upon claims of pre-emption of their relinquishment of their right, and assist the settlers who had bought of them to obtain their allowance of their claims. Therefore, all who chose so to do, procured patents, not only for their land, but their lots in town as well, which cost them about one dollar each. At the same time, when the pre-emption law passed into effect, the land offices were open for the sale of government land. This brought emigrants from all directions.

The real beginning of prosperity in Montgomery County dates as far back as 1801. During this year a list was taken of the free males, over twenty-one years of age, in Dayton township—which then formed a part of Hamilton County, the whole of Miami County, running north of a line a short distance below Miamisburg. There were twenty-eight west of the Great Miami, twenty east of the Little Miami, and three hundred and eighty-two between, making a sum total of four hundred and thirty.

The opening of the land office gave an impetus to emigration into the eastern portion of the territory that soon increased its population to the requisite number which would entitle it to admission into the Union, and on the 30th of April, 1802, Congress passed an act authorizing it to form a constitution and enter into a State government. The convention met for the formation of its constitution on November 1st of this year, and on March 1st, 1803, the first Legislature assembled. One of the first acts was for the division of Hamilton and Ross counties. Hamilton, at that time, comprised all of the Miami country. It was by this legislature reduced to its present size, and Montgomery formed. It then embraced all the country north of Butler and "Warren, to the northern boundry of the State.

Since then eleven counties have been formed from Montgomery County. Dayton was made the county-seat, and the house of George Newcom was made the court-house pro tern. Before the establishing of the seat of justice at Dayton, very many of its first settlers had moved upon their farms, and at this time only five families remained in Dayton. These five families lived near the river, and for some time that locality was the principal business centre. Finally, however, it began to branch out, and the corner of Main and First streets was the "Hub."

Montgomery County was named in honor of General Montgomery, of the American Revolutionary Army. He was born in Ireland in 1737, and was killed at Quebec on December 31st, 1775.

The first court opened July 27th, 1803, and adjourned the same day, there being no legal business to transact. There were present, representing the interests of the State of Ohio, the following gentle-men:

Francis Dunlevy, President of the first Judicial Court, with Benjamin Archer, of Centreville; Isaac Spinning, a farmer living near Dayton, and John Ewing, of Washington township, who were associate judges; Benjamin Van Cleve, County Clerk, pro tern; George Newcom, Sheriff; James Miller, Coroner; Daniel Symmes,-of Cincinnati, Prosecutor, pro tern, for the State; and besides these nearly all the white population in the surrounding country, who Assembled for a good, old-fashioned visit.

The first jurymen in Montgomery County were as follows, to-wit: John McCabe, "William Hamer, William Snodgrass, John Devor, James Miller, jr., William "Waugh, John McGrew, William Lamme, Aaron Nut, John Mikesell, Alexander Scott, Daniel C. Cooper, John Houston, John Bradford, Benjamin Robbins, Henry Youst, and Samuel Morrison.

The first jail was a peculiar public institution. When a man committed a breach of the peace he was handed over to Colonel Newcom, and deposited safely into the depths of his " old dry well," where he remained until brought to the surface for trial. This jail, though not an elegant affair, was certainly a safe repository for criminals, and was looked upon with pride by all of the law-abiding" citizens of the county.

The first brick building was erected in 1805, and the first brick residence was built by Henry Brown, in 1808.

The population had increased to three hundred and eighty-three in 1810. When the war of 1812 began, Dayton, lying on the road to the north-western frontier, became a post of collection and deposit for provisions for the troops. This caused the town to improve and increase in population rapidly. This progress continued after the war, and in 1820 Dayton had a population of eleven hundred and thirty-nine—an increase of about thirty per cent. in ten years.

But a short time after this the "wild cat" banks in the western country began " breaking up,” and this caused great depression in business. Property of all kinds fell in value, and all improvements ceased in Dayton. Its population remained about the same for some time, until work began upon the canal. This infused new life and vigor. The division of the Miami canal extending from Dayton to Middletown was put under contract in May, 1827, and during the same year building commenced with considerable activity. All the old and neglected houses were put into repair and filled with tenants. They soon became more plenty than houses. New ones were accordingly erected to meet the demand, and the whole town bore the imprint of prosperity.

The census was taken in 1828, and it showed an increase of five hundred and fifty-eight over 1820, and this increase had nearly, if not all, taken place during the last year. The United States Deputy Marshal enumerated the inhabitants in June, 1830. It had then increased to two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-four. Eighteen months subsequent, at the close of the war, in 1831, the census was again taken, and the population numbered two thousand three hundred and fifty-eight. This may be considered during this time the actual permanent population. Improvement kept pace with this increase of population. At the end of the year 1828 the town had one hundred and twenty-five brick buildings. In 1829 forty-six new brick buildings were erected, and fifty-four wooden ones, making in one year one hundred new buildings.

The canal was opened for navigation to Dayton in January, 1829. Dayton then probably contained nearly ten thousand inhabitants, while today it comprises upwards of forty thousand souls, and it now shows a steady and rapid increase.

In connection with this brief history of the settlement of Montgomery County and the progress of Dayton, the following may not be uninteresting to many of our readers:





In the spring of 1805 Dayton was overflowed in consequence of an extraordinary rise in the river. In all ordinary rises of the river, the waters had heretofore flowed through the province east of the town, but the flood of 1805 covered a great portion of the town itself. There were only two spots of dry land in all Dayton. The river broke its banks at the head of Jefferson street and coursed down to the common at the east end of old Market street in such a volume that a horse could not cross without swimming, and leaving au island between this point and the mill. A canoe could be floated at the intersection of First and St. Clair streets. At the Court-house the water was at least eight feet deep. This flood caused many of the inhabitants great anxiety, and disposed some to abandon the town and lay out another farther to the south-east, where the ground was higher.

This project was strenuously opposed by some of the leading inhabitants, which was, no doubt, for the best interests of Dayton. Some time afterwards they built a levee across the low lands at the grist-mill to prevent the passage of water out of its natural channels, but this not being sufficiently strong the floods overcame it and washed it away several times.

In 1814 Dayton was under water again. A horse could swim at various places. In 1847 another flood came, and did damage to the extent of several thousand dollars. This caused a levee to be built, which was sufficiently strong to insure the lower part of the town perfectly secure from any such disaster in the future.




Previous to the erection of so many mill-dams upon the Miami, it was navigable during the greater portion of the year for "keel boats," by which a considerable amount of business was done above and below Dayton. A few years before the war of 1812, two enterprising and ingenious citizens built two small "keel boats" on Main street, near the Court-house, hauled them down to the river, and launched them (we suppose with a feeling of as much elation as the famous ship-builder of Chester, when lie launched his Immense steamships). They proceeded up the river to Loramier, where one of them was taken out of the water and hauled a distance of twelve-miles to the St. Marys River, and thus a connecting line was formed, one boat plying upon the Miami, while the other operated upon the beautiful Maumee. With both boats the proprietors carried on a considerable trade, making quite regular trips.

Business continued upon the Miami River with keel boats as late as 1820, but by that time navigation was impeded to such an extent by mill-dams, and the price of wagon transportation from Cincinnati to Dayton had been reduced to so low a figure, that boats could not be made profitable, and finally they were taken off the river. From that time until the canal was opened the only species of navigation seen at Dayton was the descent of flat-boats on their way to New Orleans. Boats of that kind left Dayton as early as 1809.

Governor Brown, as far back as 1819, was urging the connection of Cincinnati and Dayton by means of a canal, and did much toward the accomplishment of that much-desired object. On the 25th day of January, 1829, Governor Brown experienced the pleasure of realizing that his long-desired and worked-for scheme had culminated into positive success, and the first boat had reached Dayton from Cincinnati. This boat was called " Governor Brown."




The post-office was established in Dayton in 1803. For some years the only mail received in Dayton was one that left Cincinnati once a week. The route was then up the Little Miami, through Lebanon and Xenia, thence down through Dayton and Hamilton to Cincinnati again. The first improvement in this state of things was a weekly mail route from Zanesville, by way of Franklin and Urbana, to Dayton; and this was succeeded by one through Chillicothe, which continued for years to be the principal channel from the East, when a more direct tine was established through Columbus. In the spring of 1825 Mr. Timothy Squier formed a connection with the mail contractor between Cincinnati, .Dayton, and Columbus, and started the first stage, by running once a week, and occupying two days in coming from Cincinnati to Dayton. Despite the prevalent opinion that Mr. Squier would lose by this operation, the country being thought to new to support so metropolitan a conveyance, the under-taking proved a success. Increasing travel demanded increased facilities, and coaches commenced running three times a week, and finally a daily mail line was established.

The "Dayton Repertory" was the first newspaper. It was issued by William McClure and George Smith on the 18th day of September, 1808. Five numbers were printed, and then it was suspended for about four months for want of paper. The first five numbers were printed on common writing-paper.




When the first settlers came to Dayton, the ground on which the city now stands was covered with a thick growth of scrub oak, hawthorne, and plum trees, etc., but not much heavy timber. While the inhabitants lived upon the river bank it was not uncommon for strangers, in coming into the place, after threading their way through the brush until they had passed through the entire plat of the town, to stop and inquire, "Where is Dayton?" and when told they had passed through the town, many concluded the proprietors had builded air castles when engaged in laying out the city, else they had not made it cover so much territory; and also a number of the inhabitants entertained the idea that Dayton was too extensively laid out. They did not believe the city would ever extend to the present site of the Court-house.

The first crop of corn was raised in 1796.

D. C. Cooper was the first stock raiser. In 1799 he raised a litter of pigs. Sheep were introduced soon afterward.

Colonel Newcom kept the pioneer tavern. The first school-house was erected in 1808. School was held, however, some four years previous in a log cabin.

The first church was built in 1804, by the Presbyterians.
            The first railroad in the county was the Lake Erie and Mad River Railroad, opened to Springfield in 1850. 

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