Bellevue History

From the Beginning....

Hon. C.H. Gallup, of Norwalk, President of the Firelands Historical Society, delivered an address entitled "One Hundred Years of Bellevue and Origins of Names," before the pupils of the high school and a large number of citizens Monday afternoon. Superintendent Warner presided and introduced the speaker, who was given a cordial reception.   On account of strong local interest the address is given in full and is as follows. 


The Connecticut Connection

The Pilgrims were English "Separatists" who sailed from Delf shaven (in the Netherlands) in the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony, New England, Nov. 11, 1620. In 1630 they were followed by others of like faith and hopes, among whom was John Winthrop, bearing a royal commission as Governor of Massachusetts Colony. April 23, 1662, John Winthrop and eighteen associates received from Charles II of England the munificent grant of "All that part of our dominions in New England in America - - - from Narragansett Bay in the East to the South Sea on the West, with the islands thereto adjoining." The same year "The Solemn League and Covenant" for religious reforms and liberties in England, Scotland and Ireland were renounced and by order of King Charles declared illegal.

In 1685 Louis XlV of France revoked the "Edict of Nantes" the charter of Huguenot liberties. Those reactionary measures placed the brightest intellects of Europe at the mercy of bigotry and intolerance and drove the independent, brainy men of many faiths and nationalities to this new world to find and establish civil and religious liberty. The descendants of the composite race thus begotten, formed the finest body of creative statesmen since the days of "Moses the Lawgiver" and gave this country the proud title of "The Beacon Light of Liberty." 

In 1779, George III, in an effort to check and destroy this new spirit of liberty which was challenging the "Divine Rights of Kings to Rule" sent Governor Tryon and Benedict Arnold with an army into Connecticut that destroyed Greenwich, Fairfield, Danbury, Ridgefield, Norwalk, New Haven, East Haven, New London and Groton by fire.

The Firelands

September 13, 1786, Connecticut ceded to the United States for the benefit of herself and the twelve other states, all of the King Charles grant lying West of a line parallel to, and one hundred and twenty miles west from the west line of Pennsylvania (West boundaries of Huron and Erie Counties). The one hundred and twenty mile strip was reserved from that concession of Connecticut and has ever since been known as "The Western Reserve."

In 1792, the state of Connecticut, to reimburse those of her citizens who suffered loss by the Tryon-Benedict raid,dedicated five hundred thousand acres of land lying next to the west line of "The Western Reserve" (Huron and Erie Counties, or Huron County as first organized). This grant to the fire sufferers is known as "the Firelands." 

Disputes arose between the grantors and the United States relating to the ownership of the land. May 30, 1800, the United States ceded the land titles to the fire sufferers and the representatives of the ‘‘Reserve" transferred the political jurisdiction to the general government. The Indian title was extinguished by treaty July 4, 1805, on payment of $18,916.67. 

Previous to the organization of Huron County it formed part of the county of Trumbull and by the commissioners of that county had been divided into three townships named Vermilion, Huron and Wheatsborough. 

I have access to no record showing the territory embraced in each of those organizations but the tax duplicate of the county for 1815 shows the personal property tax as follows:

Wheatsborough $111.60

Huron $56.00

Vermilion $24.80

Total for County $192.40

Huron County was established by the legislature of Ohio, Feb. 7, 1809, but not organized until Jan. 31, 1815.

The first meeting of its board of commissioners was held August 1, 1815, at the county seat, Avery (not the Avery of today), on the east side of the Huron River only a short distance south of the present Nickel Plate railroad bridge. The first county commissioners were Caleb Palmer, Charles Parker and Eli S. Barnum. At the fall election of 1815, Nathan Cummings, Frederick Falley and Bildad Adams were elected commissioners. 

At_their first meeting at the house of David Abbott, Esq., at the county seat on the first Monday of December 1815, ordered the following new townships be set off, viz. Ridgefield, comprising the townships of Ridgefield, Lyme, the south half of Oxford, together with the township of Sherman. March 4, 1816, the commissioners "ordered that the second and third sections of township no. 4 in 24 range be added to the town of Wheatsborough meeting the petition of Joesph Strong and others for that purpose and the inhabitants notified thereof."

"Sept. 11, 1819, Commissioners met to-wit: Joseph Strong and Bildad Adams ordered that the name of Wheatsborough be altered and called Lyme." At an early date and previous to the organization of the county, the claims of original fire sufferers, Peter Christopher, Eliphalet, Harris Bridget Harris and John Deshon were purchased by one Samuel Wheat who thereby became the owner of a large tract of land in township 5 of range 24 (now Groton) where be became a pioneer settler and in honor of whom the name of Wheatsborough was given to about one third of the county. 

Over two hundred and fifty years ago some of your progenitors in search of personal and religious liberty abandoned their homes in Lyme England and established a new home in the new colony of Connecticut on the Connecticut River and called it Lyme. 

Nearly two hundred years later many of their descendants seeking to improve their financial propsects and no longer searching for personal and religious freedom, for this was now not only the home of the brave but the land of the free, became residents of the Firelands and with one of their number, Major Joseph Strong, as sponsor, christened their new home after the old, as their forefathers had done before them, and gave it the thrice honored name, Lyme. 

One Hawks settled in the east part of the township, a Mr. Michael Widner and a Mr. Stull made settlements near the former R.L. McCurdy farm and Asa Sherwood from Cayuga County, New York, settled in 1811 on the so-called Sherwood prairie.  These proud transient inhabitants were driven away by the dangers incident to the war of 1812.  Sherwood, however, returned in 1818 and settled on land bought of Major Strong south of the ridge road which afterwards became the C. Barnard farm. 

George Ferguson from Pennsylvania was, in the fall of 1811, the first settler of Strong's Ridge where he remained until about 1833, when he sold his farm to Mr. James Ford, father of the late Dr. James B. Ford, of Norwalk. 

In the spring of 1812, Major Joseph Strong from Onandaga County, New York, settled 800 acres on "The Ridge" near what was the Samuel Nims farm sixty years ago.  In the winter of 1814, Captain Zadock Strong and wife settled west of his brother Joseph.  Francis Strong and family came in 1815; John Baker, a brother-in-law of the Strongs, came the same year and Abner Strong came in 1816.


Gurdon Woodward

All this Strong family settled on "The Ridge" ever since and now known as "Strongs Ridge."  The Woodward settlement in the fourth section was started in 1817, William and Gurdon Woodward, Geo. and Jeremiah Sheffield, came west from Connecticut in 1816. Mrs. George Sheffield, a sister of the Woodwards, sickened and died on their arrival in Huron.  For his second wife, George married a daughter of John Baker, both died of cholera at Norwalk in 1834.  R.L McCurdy settled on Chestnut Ridge in 1823. Amos Woodward and Samuel Sparrow with their families came from Connecticut in 1818.  Descendants from this "Woodward settlement" now help to form the population of Bellevue, Norwalk and the rest of the world. 

The first log house was built by the squatter, hunter, Michael Widnor, on "Strong s Ridge" who had some acres of corn planted and a nursery of about 800 small peach trees, all these improvements were purchased by Major Joseph Strong for $150.00 — no title to the land could be given by the squatter.  In 1817, the first frame house was built by Colonel Nathan Strong and was yet standing on the E. Bemis farm, Bloomingville Road, sixty years ago and for all I know is there yet. 



Bellevue Founded

The City of Bellevue, on the west line of Western Reserve, west line of Firelands and the west line of Huron County, the west line of Lyme Township, Huron County, and the east line of York Township, Sandusky County, was first settled by Mr. Mark Hopkins and family from Genessee County, New York, and was soon followed by Elnathan George from the same New York home. 

They built log houses near the crossing of the north and south county line road and the east and west road, now your Main street. The third settler was Mr. Return Burlington who located on the York Township side and the new settlement now was named as York Cross Roads.


Thomas Amsden

In 1819, Thomas G. Amsden from Ontario County, New York, and Frederick A. Chapman became interested in real estate at York Cross Roads.  In 1823, Mr. Amsden opened the York Cross Roads first general store, and in 1825 Mr. Chapman became his partner.  Their business was largely with the Indians and furs of wild animals were current coin and received in barter for "store goods."  The settlement now became known as Amsden s Corners.  The store was on the present site of your city hall. 

At one time after a very successful barter trip into Michigan and Canada, Mi,. Amsden, Mr. Chapman and one of his brothers returning well laden with valuable furs, were captured, robbed of their furs, and held as prisoners by a band of Indians in Canada.

Dr. L.G. Harkness

A friendly squaw watching her opportunity cut their bonds and they escaped toward the lake, then bridged over with ice.  Their escape being soon discovered they were pursued, Amsden and his partner succeeded in reaching Huron and safety but Mr. Chapman s brother never came home.  In 1823, Dr. L.G. Harkness from Salem, Washington County, New York, then 22 years of age, settled in your town and became one of its active medical practitioners. 

Dr. Lamon Gray Harkness and his wife Julia Follet Harkness




Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad

In 1832, the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad Company was chartered. The state of Ohio was at that time aiding new railroads and the $200,000 state money received by this road was one of the moving causes of its inception. 

In 1835 under the charge of James H. Bell, Chief Engineer, the line from Tiffin to Sandusky was run through Amsden's Corners, a somewhat roundabout way, instead of the straight and shorter way to Sandusky.

gurdon williams

Gurdon Williams
Amsden s Corners had a "boom." Mr. Amsden, Mr. Chapman, Dr. Harkness and Gurdon Williams purchased a town site, laid out a large plat with many lots and out of pure disinterested gratitude named the new allotment Bellevue, in honor of Mr.. Bell. 

A contract was made with the company by which Messrs. Amsden, Chapman and Harkness gave the company eighteen of their new town lots and one mile of right-of-way for the benefit the road was to bring their town. In addition, they subscribed and paid $1,000 for twenty shares of the stock of the company and $500 for a side track. 

The road was put into operation in 1837 and Bellevue grew and prospered. In 1851 the railroad company claimed to have learned that Mr. Bell s report of the straight line was grossly false and instead of an impracticable line was much better and shorter than the Bellevue line. Steps were then taken to change the line. 

Worcester and Pennewell, attorneys representing Chapman and Harkness obtained an injunction restraining the removal and a long legal battle followed resulting in a decision of the Ohio Supreme Court at its December, 1856 term that upon payment by the railroad company for the eighteen lots, the right of way, the side tracks, 20 shares of stock and unpaid dividends, interest on value of lots and for depreciation in value of warehouses the injunction theretofore operative should be set aside. 

During the pendancy of this legal battle the Sandusky City and Indiana Railroad was incorporated and built from Sandusky to Tiffin and leased by the Mad River Co., which transferred its traffic and the old line was served with a dummy train, now and then.


Ebenezer Lane

President, Mad River Company

In a report by Ebenezer Lane, President of the Mad River Company in 1853, he gives Mr. Bell this notice: "It is not for us to conjecture the in fluences under which the Engineer was led to act; but the name of Bellevue is reported to have been selected in compliment to him; and now know, that at that time he himself was one of those ‘enterprising proprietors whose spirit he commends." 

In the answer of the railroad company to the bill of complaint, the attorneys for the company, of whom the old time celebrated lawyer, Henry Stanbury was one, characterize Mr. Bell as "Resident engineer, Mr. Jas. H. Bell, a man of very convivial habits, and particularly of not over rigid virtue." 

In the spring of 1850 the Toledo, Norwalk and Cleveland Railroad Co. was incorporated. Frederick Chapman, one of your leading citizens was one of its incorporators and one of its first board of directors.  By its charter Toledo was authorized on vote of its electors to issue $50,000 of bond in aid of the road. Sandusky and Huron Counties by a like vote were authorized to bond themselves in the sum of $100,000 each.  Toledo voted its bonds but Sandusky and Huron Counties both voted against the bond issue. 

Under an amended charter in 1851 the townships through which the line was located in the two counties were authorized to vote to bond themselves for $50,000 in each county and the township of Russia in Lorain County was authorized in a like way to contribute $10,000 of its bonds.  At the spring election of 1851 the vote was favorable in every township. 

This enterprise was very distasteful at Sandusky city and leading citizens of that town threatened interference by enjoining issuing of the bonds. Very quietly and yet with much expedition Samuel T. Worcester and Charles L. Boalt, both attorneys, drafted formed for the bonds, which were sent to Mr. Fairbanks of the Cleveland Herald by the late Louis D. Strutton as a special courier, on horse back, and in a like manner Mr. Strutton brought back the printed bonds for signature. 

At Norwalk John H. Foster with a fast team took the bonds for the Sandusky County towns and Toledo to be signed, and with great expedition they were returned and before unfriendly action could be had, Charles L. Boalt, president of the company-had the bonds safe in New York and out of the judisdiction of the Ohio courts.  In those days Samuel T. Worcester of Norwalk was a State Senator and engineered the legislative end of the project. 

With these $160,000 municipal bonds, $525,000 first mortgage bonds of the road and local individual subscriptions the aggregate of which I cannot state, this road, forming the finishing link in the first New York-Chicago railroad, was successfully financed and built. And on December 22, 1852, the wood burning locomotives, Charles L. Boalt and F.B. Phillips, drew its first excursion train of eleven coaches, packed with people like sardines in boxes, from Monroeville to the east side of the river at Toledo. 

I was one of those sardines. It has become ancient history that this link in the first New York-Chicago railroad terminated on the east, at Grafton, Loran County, and its trains reached Cleveland over the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati R.R. (C.C.C.& St. L. R.R.).  Your other railroads are each of so recent advent that they do not class as ancient history, so they arc not reviewed. 

The great storehouse of history accumulated by the Firelands Historical Society has such a plethora of authentic records of your town in its early days as to be embarrassing in choosing what should be left out. As a result this paper is only an outline of parts of your history — salient points in your first century. 

It is eminently proper that this generation should learn and appreciate what a price it cost their ancestors to redeem this wilderness of the long ago and cause it to become the "dearest, sweetest spot on earth" to us. 

In those first years Indians yet roamed at will through the primeval forests. Nomads, who looked upon the settlers as trespassers upon their land and dispossessors of their homes. Murders and outrages were frequent, the torch, tomahawk and scalping knife were - freelylised and as a matter of safety for their lives several families abandoned their homes and sought safety farther east, while those who remained fortiflcl the home of 

Major Joseph Strong as a resort in case of alarm. This defense was attacked and fired upon one night in 1813 but no attempt to storm the house was made.  Perry s victory on September 10, 1813, checked these attacks but did not end them; murders of white men occurred from time to time until Negosheek and Negoneba were hung at Norwalk in 1819 for the murder of John Wood and George Bishop in their hunting camp on ‘‘Carrying River" (now Portage River), This put an effectual quietus on Indian outrages and those nomads left their ancient homes and hunting grounds forever.

Soon after Hull s surrender of Detroit, in August, 1812, John Laylin, father of LC. Laylin, now in the state department at Washington and once the honored superintendent of this high school, a soldier of Harrison s army, passed among the few settlers of Norwalk and gave them notice of an expected Indian raid. 

Benjamin Newcomb living on the southwest corner lot in Norwalk Township, acting on the warning, hastily deserted his home.  That night a party from Strong s Ridge, fleeing from the dreaded tomahawk, scalping knife or more dreaded captivity by the merciless savage, reached the deserted Newcomb log house, unhitched and "hoppled" their horses and prepared their supper.  The members of that party were Mrs. Asa Sherwood, her four girls and one boy, Joseph Strong and his sons Nathan and sister.  When about to sit down to their hasty supper they were horror stricken by the blood curdling Indian war whoop in the adjacent forest. 

Deserting supper, wagon, horses and everything that might impede escape, they fled into darkness and the cover of the woods. All night long, hour after hour, in constant terror of being overtaken, they pushed their tedious weary way southward. The children became so weary that a long light pole was found and clinging to that the strong supporting the weak, the silent, dark and weary flight continued until the block house at Mansfield was reached and danger passed. That block house is yet in existence at Mansfield. 

On the day of their flight from their home, Reuben Pixley and Seth Brown of Ridgefield learned that the Indians were not then in this part of the country and knowing of the flight of the Strongs and Sherwoods, started on their trail to give them that in- formation. When near the Newcomb ciearing they thought to have some fun with the party, and so successfully imitated the hideous Indian war whoop, that they were utterly unable to overtake the fright winged fugitives. Instead of a joke, it proved a near tragedy. 

A few days later cautiously returning to learn what had happened at his home, from a safe lookout Newcomb saw a band of Indians loot and burn his home.  But the fears and anxieties from Indian raids were not the only trials and hardships of the pioneers.  This was a "frontier settlement" the "far west" of that day. 

Household goods, groceries and family supplies had to be brought from the east "overland" and became of the almost unfathomable depth of the mud roads. In open weather, the winter time when the roads were hard with frost was the favorite freighting season. 

Up to the advent of railroads, all merchandise for the merchants in country stores, except local farm products, was freighted from the lake ports by two, four, six, eight and ten horse teams, drawing wagons loaded according to their teams — the larger wagons were called "Pennsylvania schooners." And men made a business of freighting. 

In that manner, freighting goods from Buffalo to Detroit, three teams owned by Mr. Tupper, Mr. Whitaker and a third man whose name is unknown, accompanied by Mr. John Baker and Mr. Francis Strong of Wheatsborough arrived at Dover, Cuyahoga County, late in the day of February 15, 1815. The road ahead being very bad they attempted to go around Black River point on the ice of Lake Erie, after about six miles of ice travel the leading team of horses broke through a strip of thin ice, one of the horses drowned but the other and load of freight were saved. 

Is it to be wondered at that Gurdon Williams at his, the first store in the township in 1817, got $5.00 a barrel for salt, $1.75 per yard for satine, tea $1.75 to $2.00 per pound, 62½ cents per yard for calico and sheeting leather 37 /2 cents per pound, cotton yarn $1.50 per pound, axes $3.00 without handles, which the purchaser had himself to make; hoes, without handles, $1.12½ each, and nails from 12½ cents to 31¼ cents per pound? 

There was a comradeship among those pioneers; they "neighbored" with each other for miles round about.  Amos Woodward, William Woodward, Gurdon Woodward and Samuel Sparrow were four of the eighteen organizers of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Norwalk, January 20, 1821.  Did one suffer an accident or meet with a loss? Willing, cheerful help was never wanting.  They trusted each other and they were worthy of that trust, their word was better than a present day bond. 

Over 30 years ago, I trusted the word of Mrs. R.L. McCurdy, and paid her $800 for one mile of W. & L.E. Ry. right of way, which she assured me she owned and could sell. Weeks afterwards John Gardner of Norwalk, the aged and venerable banker, advised me that Mrs. McCurdy only had a life estate; she was at once visited and when asked "Mrs. McCurdy do you remember of telling me you owned this farm andcouldgivea good deed?" She answered, "I did tell you so." 

"Had you forgotten that you only had a life estate?" "No, but can t I give a good deed for it while I am alive?" "Yes, your deed will be good so long as you live, but when you pass away your deed will become of no value and another purchase and payment will have to be made." "Oh! I never understood it that way. The money is in Mr. Woodward s bank and I will return it." 

"No, Mrs. McCurdy, please give me the names and addresses of all the heirs and you may send deeds, which will be furnished you, and ask them to execute them and so make your deed good." Those deeds came back executed by thirteen persons — all the heirs, from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and California. Mrs. McCurdy was only "a type of the times," that well illustrates the spirit of her compatriots. 

I have been much aided in compiling this paper by a paper prepared in 1859 for the Firelands Historical Society of Dr. Charles Smith, a citizen of Lyme from 1826 to his death in 1861, a paper on the T.N. & C. R. R., by Louis D. Strutton, read in 1888 before that society and by Charles E. Bloomer, county auditor, for access to old records. Also to the Ohio Supreme Court report, Vol. 6, page 179, Ebenezer Lane s report for 1857 of the Mad River Railroad and to Miss Cora Crawford of the abstract office of Holliday and Tucker for cheerful search of records. 

But for the vigilant and persistent labors of such pioneers as Platt Benedict, Zalmon Phillips, Chauncy Woodruff, Evert Bogardus, Phillip N. Schuyler, Gideon T. Stewart and Rush R. Sloane, former presidents of the Firelands Historical Society and their associates, dating back nearly sixty years, securing and recording the personal experience of the pioneers while yet living and their memories fresh, many of the facts now given you would have been lost history. 

This strikingly illustrates the wisdom of Hon. John Sherman s vice in an address to the society delivered Sept. 1, 1858 in which he said: "You can readily collect and systemize a local history of Firelands of great interest and not only to you but to generations. The name and lineage every man born and reared among should have a place in this record, that wherever his sons and daughters may wander, whether adversity fall upon them or prosperity after their adventures, they may still look the Firelands as their family and so that those of your children w may hereafter occupy homestead may take a just and natural pride for local and family history, regard.

His own land of every land the pride. 

Beloved of Heaven O'er all the world beside. 

His home the spot of eart supremely blest 

A dearer, sweeter spot than all rest. 

When Mr. Gallup concluded reading of his address, he was greeted with applause and was tendered unanimous vote of thanks.