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Pioneer Life in Dayton and Vicinity
Chapter Three - Part 2



In 1801 William Ruffin was appointed county commissioner, and Benjamin Van Cleve county surveyor, and also county lister. He found three hundred and eighty-two free males over twenty-one years of age east of the Big Miami, and twenty east of the Little Miami. He was paid twenty-nine dollars and fifty cents for listing. Current says: "In 1801 the total free male population over twenty-one years old between the two Miamis, from the present southern line of Montgomery and Greene counties, and extending probably as far north as Vienna, Springfield, New Carlisle, and the mouth of Honey Creek, was three hundred and eighty-two. Calculating on the data which the election returns now furnish, this would make the total white population of that district not far from one thousand eight hundred souls," being an average increase from 1796 of over four hundred per annum.

In 1802 there were only five families living in Dayton— George Newcom, Paul D. Butler, the Rev. James Welsh, Samuel Thompson, and George Westfall. The McClures had moved to Miami County, and other settlers had moved onto farms. However, new people commenced coming in and settling in this vicinity. Among them we find the names of Wagner, Bradford, Miller, Williams, Kennedy, Leatherman, Neff, and Spining.

Philip Wagner emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Columbia about the year 1800, and, after staying there a short time, removed to this county, settling in Harrison Township, near the Soldiers' Home, where he died. He had eight children, the youngest, of whom, Philip, Jr., in 1810, bought a tract of about eight hundred acres in Mad River Township. He married Esther Bowman, and also had eight children, among them another Philip.

John Bradford was born in 1759, and on July 15, 1785, married Mary Gillespie, who was born in 1764 and died in 1812. Mr. Bradford came to Ohio in 1800, entered one hundred and sixty acres of land south of Dayton, and in 1801 moved his family to the farm. He died in 1820. They had twelve children: George G., the father of James J. and George D. Bradford; Robert, John, Jean Eleanor, James G., William, Samuel D., the father of Mrs. Alexander McConnell, and Robert Bradford; Mary, who married John Bigger, and was the mother of Joseph and Samuel Bigger; Margaret, who married Joseph Bigger, and died without heirs; David D., Martha Alien, and Alien, who married Eliza Johnson. He died in 1866. Mrs. Eliza Bradford is still living. They reared a large family, of whom Johnson P., George G., and Richard are the only ones living.

Daniel Miller came west from Pennsylvania in 1802, prospecting for laud, and finding Billy Mason "squatted" on Section 30, Harrison Township, he agreed to enter the land and pay him for what he had cleared, and his cabin. Mr. Miller then went to the land office in Cincinnati and made the entry, and the nest year moved his family west and took possession of the Mason cabin. In 1804 or 1805 Mr. Miller built a grist- and sawmill on his land, long known as Miller's Mills. He was a German Baptist, and much respected. He-built a large brick house on a rise of ground south of the Wolf Creek pike, probably at one time (many years ago) the bank of Wolf Creek, where he died.  The family are all buried on this same rise, a little east of the house.

Miller's Mills were built by John H. Williams, a mill-wright, who emigrated to North Carolina, and from there to Kentucky, where he married Jane Crothers in 1799, and moved to Warren County, stopping at Franklin. In 1802 he located on Section 25, Madison Township, being obliged, like all other settlers, to go to the land office at Cincinnati to make his entry. Mr. Williams was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, and was a trustee of the church at an early day. His wife died in 1817, leaving him with eight children—James L., Mary, Sarah, Lucinda, Harbert S., Susan C., Anna M., and Elizabeth. Mr. Williams was after this twice married: first, to Mrs. Boal, who died in 1822, leaving a daughter, Eliza J., who married Charles Sherman, and, second, to Mrs. McConnell, by whom he had one child—Francis. Mr. Williams died in 1841.

James Lockhart Williams, the oldest son of John H. Williams, was born October 7, 1800, and on November 14, 1820, married Charity G. Crowell. He was a farmer by occupation, his farm being bounded by what are now Third Street and Germantown Street on the north and south, Broadway on the west, and the river on the east. He had seven children, of whom Jane C., the wife of Hiram Lewis, Mary C., the wife of D. C. Rench, Susan S., and Charles C., are still living. He afterwards sold his farm to his brother, Harbert Williams.

Harbert S. Williams was born in April, 1807, on the farm now owned by Wilson Sloan. Later his father, with his family, moved to the Long farm, now a part of Miami City, the house standing just west of North Summit Street.

In 1830 Harbert married Mary Ann Weakley. They had four children, all of whom are dead. They lived in a frame house on the east side of Williams Street, near Third Street, while Mr. Williams was opening up the  surrounding farm.  In 1837 he was engaged in the grocery business with David Davis, on Market Street.  He afterwards returned to his farm, and lived there several years; but the property becoming valuable, he sold it, and bought a farm on West Third Street, outside of the city limits, built the homestead, and moved there. His wife died, and in 1860 he married Agnes Whitmore. They had three children, two of whom—Mrs. John Campbell and Miss Nannie B. Williams—are still living.  Mr. Williams was a successful business man, and accumulated a large property. In January, 1847, he was ordained deacon in the First Presbyterian Church, and in 1853 ordained elder in the same church. When a colony formed the Fourth Church, on Summit Street, Mr. Williams was elected and ordained an elder in that church, and held that office until his death.  He contributed liberally to the support of the church.

James Bracy Oliver, born in Augusta Springs, Augusta County, Virginia, left there in 1802 on a pony, crossed the Ohio at Huntington, and reached Dayton with fifty cents in his pocket. This he gave to one of the "old residents" to keep the pony for a month. This "old resident" was building a mill, and Mr. Oliver at once commenced work on the race, and continued helping around until he was able to purchase a piece of ground near the Soldiers' Home, which he afterwards sold to the county commissioners for an infirmary, and became the first poorhouse overseer in Montgomery County.

After some time he purchased the farm, north of the Eaton pike, now owned by William King, and having, in 1809, married Mary, he built one of the largest brick houses in the county, and reared a large family. He was very fond of sport and kept a pack of hounds. He and Jeff McConnell and Adam Houk, three old cronies, were so often out fox- and deer-hunting that they became well known over the country, and many anecdotes are told about them. Mr. Oliver always wore a hunting-shirt and a large wool hat, was very proud of his costume, and was never known to appear in any other on any occasion. A Dunkard and very jovial, there is hardly an old citizen but what, when his name is mentioned, will laugh and relate some joke played by him. When McCullum first built his tavern on Main Street, and was getting settled, he found himself one Saturday morning very much in need of hay. On making inquiry as to where he could probably get a load without delay, he was referred to "Uncle Jimmie Oliver." Uncle Jimmie said, yes, it was Saturday, and a busy time, but he would bring the hay in the afternoon, which he did, and on driving to the tavern McCullum commenced, "Well, old man, what do you ask for this load of hay?" The price was named, and McCollum said he would give so much for it, when Uncle Jimmie replied he would not give four cents, and, turning to his driver, George Weaver, said, "George, drive to Alexander Grimes's and put this hay in his barn." As the man drove away, Uncle Jimmie turned to the inn-keeper and remarked very pleasantly, "It is getting colder." McCullum asked in amazement where the man was going with the hay, and why it was not being unloaded in his barn. Uncle Jimmie quietly replied, "That hay is gone; old Alexander Grimes gets it." On Monday Uncle Jimmie met Mr. Grimes, who said that he had not bought any hay, but the man had put a load in his stable on Saturday. "Well," said Uncle. Jimmie, "I know you didn't buy it, but the hay is good, isn't it? Your horses will eat it. It is all right; it don't cost you, anything; I make you a present of it." His friend, and afterwards his executor, Henry Stoddard, was out at the farm one after-noon. As they walked about, Mr. Stoddard was very much interested, making inquiries as to the times of planting clover, timothy, wheat, etc., and how to prepare the soil. Uncle Jimmie willingly gave him all the information he could on the subject. Soon after, on entering Mr. Stoddard’s office, he was presented with a bill for five dollars for legal advice relating to a division fence. Uncle Jimmie at once sat down and drew up a bill for five dollars for advice on farming, which balanced the account. One day Dr. Steele asked Uncle Jimmie to send him a load of wood that would kindle easily, and Uncle Jimmie sent him a load of buckeye. In a few days the Doctor met him and asked what kind of wood that was. Uncle Jimmie replied, "Oh, you wanted wood to kindle easily, so I sent it." Buckeye has a peculiar bark that, when dry, at the touch of flame, will fizz, but die out, and it is almost impossible to burn it. Owing to this peculiarity it was almost universally used for backlogs. There is no doubt that this little joke cost Mr. Oliver considerable wood in the end. He at one time suspected a neighbor, a "new emigrant," of stealing his corn, so one morning asked the man if he was too busy to help, as the corn was being stolen, and he wanted to fix a trap to catch the thief. The two men worked busily for some hours, fixing the trap. After the neighbor departed Mr. Oliver quietly moved the trap to a different location, and the next morning found his suspicions verified. The man begged to be let out, saying that he would never do such a thing again. Mr. Oliver released him, took him to the house for breakfast, forcing him to eat a hearty meal, then loaded two bags of corn on his shoulders and sent him home with the promise that he would never mention his name if the offense was not repeated.

Mr. Oliver died January 17, 1846, at the age of sixty-four years, and is buried on the road running north from the Soldiers' Home. James Oliver Arnold, of Dayton View, is his oldest grandson.

John Neff removed with his family to Dayton in 1801, from Shenandoah County, Virginia. He entered one thou-sand eight hundred acres of land in Harrison Township, extending two miles along the bank of the Great Miami River, and adjoining the park now known as Idylwild.

He had nine children—five sons, Christopher, Henry, Abraham, Daniel, and John, and four daughters, Elizabeth, Esther, Barbara, and Mary. As his children came of age, he gave each of his sons two hundred acres of land, and his daughters each one hundred acres. Mr. Neff died in 1847, and his wife in 1879, in the ninety-fourth year of her age. They are both buried at Beardshear's Chapel.

Abraham, the third son of John Neff, was a soldier in the War of 1812. He was married in 1808 to Mary Spruce; and was the father of the late Lewis Neff, better known as Squire Neff, who was born in 1810. Mary married George Beardshear, who came to Dayton from Virginia about 1805. They settled on the hundred acres given Mrs. Beardshear by her father, and their seven children are all living in the same neighborhood. Barbara married Martin Houser, who came from Virginia about 1805, and settled on Section 25, near Peach Tree Bend, a short distance south of J McLain Smith's farm. They had eight children. Mr. Houser died February 23, 1842. His wife died January 8, 1844.

Henry Leatherman came here first in 1803. In 1819 he bought the right of way through the Hamer land, dug a race from Mad River to where Harbine Street crosses the Hydraulic, and built a sawmill. Two years ago one of the sills of that mill was dug out of the mud perfectly sound.

In 1820 Mr. Leatherman and Elisha Brabham built the red mill on the foundation of the Cooper mill, which burned that year. This mill was torn down in 1837, when Messrs. Grimes and Davies changed the bed of Mad River, to make room for the extension of the canal basin. In 1825

George Kniesley bought sixty acres of the Hamer property, and erected a mill on the north side of the Spring-field road. In 1843-44 H. G. Phillips, Daniel Beckel, and Samuel D. Edgar bought the Kniesley and Leather-man interests and built the Upper Hydraulic. I understand that Mr. Leatherman went to California and died there in 1859.

Gilbert Kennedy, born in Glasgow, Scotland, on coming to this country settled first in Pennsylvania.  In 1803 he came to Dayton on horseback, bought land on Stillwater, and in 1807 cut his way through from Ebenezer Church. On reaching his land, he chopped down a large oak tree, built a tent against it, and lived there while building his house. At that time there were only two cabins between his place and town.  Mr. Kennedy kept bachelor's hall until 1812, when he married Nancy Kerr, who lived at the foot of the hill this side of the Kennedy homestead. They had six children,—four sons and two daughters,—two of whom, John and Joseph, are still living, Joseph on the home farm.

Isaac Spining, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, came to Ohio with his brothers, Mathias and Ichabod, about the year 1796. Mathias settled near Lebanon, and Ichabod, in 1805, made Cincinnati his home. In 1801 Isaac Spining came to Dayton, and in 1803 was appointed one of the first two associate judges in Ohio. The following is a copy of his commission :

"EDWARD TIFFIN, Governor, in and by the authority of the State of Ohio, to all who 'shall see these presents, Greeting.

"KNOW YE, that we have assigned and constituted, and do by these presents constitute and appoint, Isaac Spining Associate Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Montgomery, agreeable to the laws, statutes, and ordinances in such cases made and provided, with all the privileges, immunities, and emoluments to such office belonging or in any wise appertaining, for and during the space or term of seven years from the 6th day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and three, if he shall so long behave well.

"In witness whereof, the said Edward Tiffin, Governor of the State of Ohio, hath caused 'the great seal of the State of Ohio' to be hereunto affixed, at Chillicothe, the 8th day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and three, and of the independence of this State the first.  By the Governor, (SEAL.)   (Signed,) "EDWARD TIFFIN."

Mr. Spining took his oath of office before John Ewing on the 10th day of May. Judge Spining and his brothers were Revolutionary soldiers, and when he died, December 24, 1825, after, having served as associate judge for twenty-two years, having continued to "so long behave well," he was carried to the grave by six Revolutionary soldiers. Mr. Spining married Catharine Pierson, of Morristown, New Jersey. They had several children. One of the daughters married Dr. Job Haines; another married Dr. Monfort. One son, Pierson, married Mary Schooley, and was the father of Mrs. Mary Wade, Mrs. David Stewart, and Miss Lizzie Spining, of this city. George B. Spining was the father of the Rev. Dr. George Spining, a noted minister of the Presbyterian Church.

Charles Spining was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on February 7, 1793, and was but three years old when his father brought the family across the mountains to Ohio. In a letter which he wrote to Mr. George Kemp, some years ago, but which is not dated, he says he was eight years old when his father moved to Dayton. Until 1815 they raised all their own flax and wool, spun, and made most of the clothing for the family. In 1825 Mr. Spining married Jane Perlee, of Springfield. He devoted part of his time to mercantile pursuits, but later moved to the farm. As old age crept on, he transferred the farm to his son George and came to make his home with his daughter Jennie, Mrs. Frank Mulford. Here he died on May 31, 1879, at the advanced age of eighty-six years, in full possession of his mental faculties.

One of the prominent men of this period was John Whitten Van Cleve, who was born in Dayton June 27, 1801. He was from boyhood a student, beginning Latin when but ten years of age. When sixteen he was admitted to the Ohio University at Athens, and, owing to his unusual knowledge of Latin and Greek, was employed as a teacher of those languages before he graduated. He had a remarkable memory, and mastered the higher mathematics without difficulty. Mr. Van Cleve was an artist, painting many of the native flowers. He engraved many a picture of Dayton, and illustrated the songs which he wrote to be used in the Log Cabin, a campaign paper issued in 1840 in the interests of General Harrison, whom he greatly admired. He spent much of his time wandering over the county, hammer in hand, seeking geological specimens, especially the fossils which crop out in the blue limestone, and prepared a number of engravings himself. These were published in. the Indiana Geological Reports. The originals are now in the Dayton Public Library. Mr. Van Cleve was a musician, and could play on a violin (which he also made), piano, and other instruments. He was president of the first musical society organized here, in 1823, called the Pleyel Society. He was interested in horticulture, devoting much care and attention to his farm, now city lots, just north of my father's farm, in the southeastern part of the city. He at one time planted ten acres in peaches, which, unfortunately, did not thrive, and was the first to plant the osage orange as a hedge, but did not live to trim it. He was one of the organizers of the Horticultural Society of Montgomery County, and was probably the first secretary, as the minutes are decorated with some of his work—a peach on a branch, with a cluster of leaves, done in water-colors.

With all his accomplishments, love of nature, and out-door life, Mr. Van Cleve was also a practical business man. He could use his father's compass and chain as well, perhaps, as any surveyor or engineer of his day, and served as town engineer for several terms. On returning from college he entered the office of Judge Crane, and was admitted to the bar in 1828, but never practiced, and at once bought an interest in the Dayton Journal, which he edited until 1834. During this time, as Whig, he served as Mayor for one term. In 1834 he formed a partnership with Augustus Newell in the drug business, furnishing the capital and allowing Mr. Newell to conduct the business. In this he continued until 1851, when, having accumulated enough to live on comfortably, he retired from business.

To Mr. Van Clove's untiring energy and love of the beau-ties of nature, we owe our Woodland Cemetery, the third rural cemetery to be opened in the United States. One of the most attractive spots to him around Dayton was the highest point of the hill, where the rustic lookout now stands. Many a time have I, when hunting squirrels, long before the ground was suggested by Mr. Van Cleve as a cemetery, seen him there by himself, looking over the town in the valley below. When, in 1840, Mr. Van Cleve suggested that a corporation be formed to purchase forty acres for a cemetery, people thought him visionary,—that the forty acres would never be filled, but, as in many other instances, for the good of Dayton, he had his way. "The cemetery was laid out, the roads run, the platting done, the accounts kept by this skilled surveyor and bookkeeper, and all the duties of a superintendent performed by him without compensation, during the earlier years of its history." He continued president of the Association until his death.

Mr. Van Cleve was a great lover of the forests, and knew the name of every tree and plant in Montgomery County. He assisted in planting the trees on each side of the levees, and himself planted the elms in front of the Court-house, on Main and Third streets, caring for them until his death. There they remained, an ornament to the town, and a memorial of John W. Van Cleve, until the paving of the streets seemed to make their removal necessary. He made a complete herbarium of the, plants of the county, which at his death was given to Cooper Seminary, but it was evidently not appreciated, as no particular care was taken of it. What remains can now be found in the museum at the Public Library.

In 1841 Mr. Van Cleve purchased one rod of land from Robert W. Steele's southern boundary, and I purchased a rod from S. D. Edgar's northern boundary, adjoining, which, by jointly grading and graveling, formed a good road from our farms to what is now Wayne Avenue, thus making an outlet to town. Shortly after this was completed, several young ladies suggested a quilting at my mother's. The quilt was patched and framed, and the time set for the quilting, which came off in good style. Among the guests was a young man, something of a wag, a sign-painter by trade, who, in consequence of the fact that neither Mr. Van Cleve, Samuel D. Edgar, nor myself was married at that time, wrote a sign, "Bachelor's Alley," nailed it to a fence-rail, and set it up. The sign remained there for a long time, and the lane continued to be called Bachelor's Alley until about two years ago, when Council officially named it Lathrop Avenue.

In 1833 Mr. Van Cleve delivered a lecture on Dayton, in which he made the statement that it had grown to be a place of four thousand inhabitants, and gave the following description of the town as it was in 1800:

"While the inhabitants all lived on the river bank, it was not uncommon thing for strangers, on coming into the place, after threading their way through the brush until they had passed through the whole town plat, from one extremity to the other, and arrived at the first few of the cabins that constituted the settlement, to inquire how far it was to Dayton. They were, of course, informed that they had just passed through it and arrived in the suburbs.

The fact seemed rather ridiculous, and it was very natural for them to think that the projectors of the town had calculated much too largely in laying it out upon so extensive a scale. The inhabitants themselves, indeed, partook of the same opinion. The lots on the east side of Main Street, opposite the Court-house, were considered so far out of the way that it was not thought probable that the town would extend much beyond them, and they were accordingly appropriated for a graveyard, and remained so till 1805, when the present burying-ground [on Sixth Street] was selected, which has been used by the town and county ever since."

Mr. Van Cleve never married. He died at his lodgings at the Phillips House on September 6, 1858, universally mourned.


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