The Firelands Historical Society Museum

On this date, one hundred and ten year ago, Caleb Gallup, grandson of Norwalk founder Platt and Sally Benedict, ran an article in the Norwalk Daily Reflector, requesting donations for the-firelands-pioneerthe new museum of the Firelands Historical Society. The society was the second oldest in Ohio, founded in 1857. Since then, the organization had held annual meetings and published the Firelands Pioneer to record stories of the settlement of the Firelands. Now they had established the first historical museum in the state to preserve the relics of those times.

The museum had been established in “fireproof rooms” in the Norwalk Public Library, and its display cases were waiting to be filled. Mr. Gallup, in his role as Custodian of Relics for the society, requested that descendants of the early pioneers comb their attics, basements and store rooms for portraits, papers, old furniture and anything else that harked back to those early days.



The Firelands Historical Society Museum

The Firelands Historical Society Museum is still going strong. It is now quartered in the old Wickham home at 4 Case Avenue, directly behind library. The museum’s collection has grown in the last one hundred ten years, and contains many relics of the pioneer days, to include one of the most extensive collections of old firearms you will ever see.

Just down the street, at 9 Case Avenue, it the Laning-Young Research Center. With over 4,000 historical volumes, this is the go-to place to research about the history of the Firelands.

The next time you are in Norwalk, Ohio, be sure to visit this great museum and research center. You’ll be glad you did.


Source: “Historical Museum,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector,” February 5, 1907, page 2, column 3.


Circus on the Frontier


Over the weekend, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that they will close after 146 years in business due to declining attendance and higher costs, coupled with protests by animal rights groups. Circuses have been around since Roman days, and these traveling shows were popular in America long before 1875, when P.T. Barnum began his “greatest show on earth.”

Unbelievable as it may seem, circuses were even popular on the frontier in the early 1800s. One such show stopped by Norwalk in late 1826 or early 1827, and when they left, they took with them Daniel Benedict, son of Platt and Sarah Benedict. In April, he wrote home.


Paris, Kentucky, April 24th, 1827

Dear Father,

I have not heard from you since I left “Cincinnati.” I have written to you several times since then. I wrote to you from Harrodsburg and from Lexington. My health is better than it was when I wrote last and I am in hopes that I shall get well again. You need not give yourself any uneasiness about me for I shall be well taken care of by the company if I am confined. I am able to travel now and it does not hurt me at all to travel.

camelThe camel is dead that was at Norwalk and it made a great hole in the Exhibition. It was worth two thousand dollars to the company, and some of the monkeys are dead. In all we are doing good business. At every place we stop at, the question is are you for Adams or for Jackson. As for myself, I say Adams and the rest of our company say the same. Adams will get as many friends in Kentucky as Jackson in my opinion.

The first thing we meet when we stop at a public house in this state is a negro with a boot jack and a pair of slips and wants to brush our boots and we are brushed from head to foot, and you insult a Kentuckian, he will draw his knife the first thing. There has been three men hanged and four more sentenced to the gallows since I’ve been in this state. They hang more in this state than any in the Union.

Pleased write to me and direct the letter to Maysville, Kentucky or to Lexington, for I shall be in Maysville in four or five weeks from this time, and in Lexington a few days.

                                      From your son, D. B. Benedict

When I shall be in Norwalk, I cannot tell. [1]

I find this letter fascinating–and poignant. Fascinating to imagine the menagerie of a circus, in those days before railroads in the west, traversing the rough roads of the time. Poignant because I know Daniel never made it home to Norwalk. He died of malaria in New Orleans on September 9 that same year.

[1] The original of this letter is in the collection of the Firelands Historical Society, Norwalk, Ohio.

Hardship and Tragedy

George Woodruff and the other men started work the day after they arrived at Village House, clearing enough land to plant corn that spring. The soil in the area was a clay loam “well suited for agriculture, but before they could take advantage of its fertility, they needed to clear away the trees.

snowy-woodsThis was no easy matter. The forests were heavily timbered with enormous white oaks, whitewood and black walnut, generally eighty to one-hundred feet in height and three feet in diameter. Some were as much as six foot in diameter, and as they began to cut them down, George and the others found by their rings that those giants were upwards of three-hundred years old.

Game was abundant; deer and wild turkey, especially, and provided them with much needed food to supplement what they had brought with them. Wolves were also numerous, and their howling kept George and the rest of the party awake many nights.

Hardships on the trek west, and the privations of their new home took a toll on the settlers, especially the children. During the families’ sojourn in Trumbull, Roxanna Lawrence had had a baby boy, and she carried the infant at her breast all the way to “Village House.” But the harsh conditions of travel and the primitive conditions in their new home took a toll on this delicate creature. Nine days after they arrived, the infant died.

gravestone-in-forestThey buried him on the banks of Mud Run, just north of Village House. People in those days were accustomed to death, it visited often, even in the relatively civilized east. But accustomed as they might be, they could never become immune to the grief of the loss of a loved one–especially the loss of a child so young.

More deaths were to follow; which is the subject of my next post.

This story is based on accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.


Location of the “Village House” in Norwich Township, 1817

myrtle-woodruffWe continue with the heritage of Myrtle Woodruff, alumnus of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

In my last post, I described the arrival on February 10, 1817 of the Woodruff and Laurence families at the “Village House,” a small cabin in the wilderness of Norwich Township. When I read stories like these, I usually have a hard time picturing where events took place. The old records often describe places in relation to landmarks that those living then would relate to, but are a complete mystery to me. [1]

So I decided to investigate

log-cabin-imageAccording to the March 1860 issue of The Firelands Pioneer and WW Williams’ book, the village house was located “on the village plat, where Durwin Boughton’s house now stands.” This didn’t tell me much. I have not found any record (so far) to tell me where Durwin Boughton lived in 1860. Also, the “village plat” refers to a town laid out by surveyors in the spring of 1816, but never developed.

I do, however, have this tidbit, also from the March 1860 issue of The Firelands Pioneer: “They also surveyed and laid out the village plat of Barbadoes, on the west end of lot 38, second section, and the adjoining east end of lot 6, third section, where Durwin Boughton and George H. Woodruff now live.” [2]

norwich-township-1845-plat-map-section-3norwich-township-1845-plat-map-section-2Now I had something to work with. A Google search turned up the 1845 plat maps for Huron County. [3] Above are the plat maps for the second and third sections of Norwich Township.

Lot 6 of Section 3 is third lot down on the far right of the “Sec. 3” plat, and Lot 38, of Section 2 is also third down, but on the far left of the “Sec. 2” plat. Note that G.W. Woodruff is the owner of Lot 6 in Section 3.

Below is a view of approximately where these two lots are in Norwich Township today.



By comparing this satellite image with the 1845 Plat map, and the facts I gleaned from the historical accounts,  I feel I can make an educated guess of where the “Village House” was located

Let’s assume that Road 195 in the satellite image follows the route of Buell’s Road [4] (zooming in on the satellite image, I found that this road is is labeled “Old Military Road”), and that Section Line Road 30 S is the division between Sections 2 and 3. If we accept those assumptions, we may conclude that the proposed village of Barbadoes was laid out just south of Mud Run (which will be discussed in a later post) on both sides of the section line and bisected by the “Old Military Road.” This leads me to believe that the Village House, which the Woodruff and Laurence families occupied on February 10, 1817, was located somewhere near the farm buildings located southeast of the intersection of Section Line Road 30S and Road 195.

Does this make sense? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

Next up: what transpired with the Woodruff and Laurence families in the days following their arrival at Village House.


[1] My father was a land surveyor in Lorain County, Ohio, which is next to Huron County. He once told me he found a description in the old records that began “in the middle of the snowbank.” As he explained it to me, in those days, it must have been common knowledge that every winter a large snowdrift would form at the same location. Great for the people living at that time, not so good for my dad.

[2] John Niles, “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and W.W. Williams, “Norwich Township,” History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[3] Online Index to the Plat Book of ca 1845, Huron County, Ohio, The US Gen Web Project for Huron County, Ohio.

[4] Beall Trail was cut through the wilderness by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812 from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships. The Woodruff and Laurence party followed this trail from New Haven to their new home in 1817.


Village House: A Cabin at the End of Beall’s Trail


Myrtle Woodruff

In last year’s October 29 post, we celebrated three Norwalk High School Class of 1907 October Birthdays. One of the students who celebrated a birthday that month was Myrtle Woodruff. Today we begin a series of posts about Myrtle’s heritage. Her family was among that wave of pioneers that settled in the Firelands in 1817, following the disastrous “Year without Summer” of 1816. We begin with the story of Myrtle’s great-great-great grandfather Chauncey Woodruff, and his son George, who together settled in Norwich Township, in the southwest corner of the Firelands, in February of 1817, almost a year earlier than Platt and Sarah Benedict founded Norwalk, Ohio. [1]


The Village House

It was late afternoon, Monday, February 10, 1817 when George Woodruff spotted the “Village Cabin” ahead through the trees. His family and the rest of his party had made surprisingly good time that day on the twelve mile trek over the Beall trail [2] from New Haven township. A foot of snow covering the ground had made travel easy for the oxen pulling the sleds with their belongings.

snowy-woodsThe party consisted of him and his new wife Hannah, his father Chauncey and his sister Elizabeth, and Wilder and Roxanna Laurence and their nine children. A few friends rounded out the group. [3]

The Woodruff and Laurence families had arrived in Ohio from Saratoga, New York in the fall of the previous year, and had stayed in Trumbull County, while George and his father Chauncey had come ahead to scout the land and select lots for settlement. George had remained in the township of New Haven, while his father returned to Trumbull County for the rest of the party. Chauncey had returned with the others two days previously, and today they had finally completed the last leg of the journey to their new home.


While on their scouting trip to the region, unlike many pioneers, George and his father did not need to build the cabin they were about to occupy. It had been raised in the spring of 1916 by a man named John Williamson. Mr. Williamson had not occupied the cabin, nor had he stayed in the Firelands, so now it was open for use by the Woodruff and Lawrence families.

The cabin had a roof and walls with openings cut for a door and fireplace. A crib had been constructed as a frame for a hearth. George and his father remembered seeing split oak puncheons for a floor stacked next to the cabin on their previous visit, but the pile was now completely covered by snow.

George and the other men set to work digging out the puncheons and shoveling dirt into the crib for a hearth. They laid an improvised floor and hung blankets over the opening for the door, while Roxanna and Hannah built a fire on the hearth and made supper. Then the whole party crowded into the small space, and tried to make themselves comfortable.

They made merry as best they could that evening, helped along by a  jug of whisky they had taken care to pack on the sleds before leaving New Haven, then lay crowded on the puncheon floor, trying to ignore the howling of wolves in the surrounding forest.

So passed their first night in their new home on the frontier.

Next up: Do you find all these place names confusing? Would you like to have a map when reading accounts like these? Help is on the way tomorrow with my next post: Where was Village House?


[1] This story is based mostly on the accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.

[2] Beall’s Trail was cut through the wilderness from Wooster to Fremont, Ohio by General Reasin Beall and his army in 1812. It passed through what would become New Haven and Norwich Townships.

[3] George’s mother Eunice Woodruff, nee Hosford, was missing from the party. She had died in 1797, two years after George’s birth. Roxanna Lawrence’s maiden name was Woodruff, so she was no doubt related to Chauncey, probably his sister. I have found other examples of this; for instance, siblings Henry and Elizabeth Lockwood and their spouses settled just outside of what would become Norwalk, Ohio in 1816, and hosted Platt and Sarah Benedict when they arrived in the fall of 1817, as described in the Sufferers Land Post #6: A Home in the Wilderness on this site.



“Sufferers’ Land Post #12 – Social Life on the Frontier

Communal projects were often social occasions, as a settler described in later years. In the early settlement of the country, there were cabin and barn raisings, log-rollings, wood-choppings, corn-huskings, and sewing and quilting parties, and at such gatherings, utility and amusements were usually blended. Rich and poor then met upon lines of social equality, and the old and young mingled together in those old-time gatherings.

The Pioneers were helpful to each other, not only in “raisings” and “rollings,” requiring a force of men, but also in other ways. If a settler was incapacitated from work by sickness or other cause, his neighbors set a day and gathered in force and plowed his corn, harvested his grain, or cut his wood for the winter, as the season or occasion required. And when a pig or a calf or a sheep was killed, a piece of the same was sent to the several families in the neighborhood, each of whom reciprocated in kind, and in this neighborly way all had fresh meats the greater part of the summer.

Corn Husking

Corn Husking – Finding the Red Ear. New England 1820

Corn-huskings were great occasions. Sometimes the corn ears were stripped from the stalks and hauled to a favorable place and put in parallel or semi-circular windrows, convenient for the huskers. Moonlight nights were usually chosen for husking-bees, and sometimes bonfire lights were improvised. After the company gathered, captains were selected who chose the men off into two squads or platoons which competed in the work, each trying to finish its row first. The captain of the winning squad would then be carried around on the shoulders of his men, amid their triumphal cheer, and then the bottle would be passed.

Women also attended these Pioneer gatherings and sometimes assisted at the husking, but more frequently were engaged in the early evening in quilting or sewing, or in helping to prepare the great supper-feast that was served after the work was done.
There was a rule that a young man could kiss a girl for each red ear of corn found at a husking, and it goes without the saying that all the girls were kissed, some of them several times for it was surprising how many red ears were found – so many that the number was prima facie evidence that some of the boys went to the huskings with their pockets full of red corn ears.

Nearly all the Pioneer gatherings wound up after supper with a dance. When a fiddler could not be obtained, music for the occasion was furnished by some one blowing on a leaf, or by whistling “dancing tunes.” The dancing was more robust in those days than artistic, perhaps, for the people were robust in those days, effeminacy not becoming fashionable until later years. [1]

Clothing was precious in the early years of settlement. The clothing brought from the East soon wore out, especially for the men, who worked clearing the land and planting the fields. It would be several years before replacement clothing would be readily available. Raccoon and muskrat caps, and deerskin jackets and pantaloons, were for several years . . . the leading articles of dress. This style of clothing was not as practical as it may seem, and resulted in many ludicrous incidents . . . from the dryings, or freezing, of this very changeable and unaccommodating species of apparel. [2]

As the settlers tamed the frontier, they introduced sheep and began to use wool to make clothing. But before it could be used the wool had to be carded into rolls by hand, and after the rolls had been spun into yarn and the yarn woven into flannel, the product of the loom had to be “fulled” into thicker cloth for men’s wear. As this was a hand or rather a foot process, it necessitated “fulling” or “kicking” parties. Upon such occasions the web was stretched out loosely on the puncheon floor and held at each end, while men with bared feet sat in rows at the sides and kicked the cloth, while the women poured on warm soapsuds, and the white foam of the suds would often be thrown over both the kickers and attendants. [3]

Pioneer gatherings in those days had two purposes, to accomplish work that families couldn’t do on their own and as an opportunity to socialize and meet new friends. Young people found romance at these gatherings, and no doubt, Clarissa Benedict had her fair share of suitors.

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

GO TO NEXT POST – Clarissa Benedict

Index of Posts

[1] “Pioneer Gatherings” by A.J. Baughman, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1900, pp. 629-630.
[2] Description of wardrobes of men in the early days of settlement is from “Oration of Eleutherous Cooke,” The Firelands Pioneer, June, 1858, p. 6
[3] “Pioneer Gatherings” by A.J. Baughman, The Firelands Pioneer, December 1900, pp. 629-630.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

“Sufferers’ Land” Post #11 – A Woman’s Life on the Frontier

Life on the frontier was not easy, but Sally and the rest of the Benedicts, like most settler families, adapted well. Later many of them would look back on those early days as an adventure. However, as good as those times may have seemed in memory, at the time, most settlers found life to be sheer drudgery. Backbreaking labor and long hours of loneliness were the norm. Platt, his hired hand and the older boys worked outside the home, cutting trees and brush, planting, and working together with men of other families to raise houses, barns and other structures.

Travel was also difficult. What passed for roads were actually trails that meandered through the great woods, detouring around enormous stumps and fallen trees. They were rutted and dusty in dry weather and seas of mud in wet. A man on horseback was not unlikely to meet a foot traveler stalled, and was compelled to dismount and pry him out, one leg at a time. [1]

Travelers often became lost in the woods and had to spend the night on the ground — or in a tree while wolves and bears growled and howled beneath. Many settlers kept a horn handy to signal to family members who failed to return home from short treks into the forest. Becoming lost could be fatal. Several early settlers who wandered off into the forests were discovered dead months later or never found at all.

Wolves, bears, and panthers caused terror, and were a constant danger to livestock. Wolves and panthers went after sheep, bears after hogs. In 1823, a bear was shot in Wakeman Township, just east of Norwalk, while eating a hog alive. [2]

Fatal attacks on humans by these predators were rare. Falling trees were another story. Many men were crushed to death while clearing the land, or just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others died after being thrown or kicked by horses.

Another cause of premature death was illness. The early settlers were plagued with various illnesses, especially ague, now known as malaria. The settlers were native to New England and were not accustomed to this disease. Soon after arrival in the Firelands, many acquired a pallor and sickliness.

Women generally stayed at home, venturing out occasionally to visit other families or attend religious meetings on the Sabbath. Loneliness was a constant problem, especially on farms in the townships. That first winter, Sally had Clarissa, already a young woman of twenty, to keep her company. However, we can only imagine what she and her daughter thought of being so far from friends and family in Connecticut.

Many frontier women were extremely homesick. In the stark wilderness of Northern Ohio, the comforts of Connecticut and close relationships with relatives and friends seemed far away. Letters and journals passed between the two places as new settlers arrived and others returned to visit their former homes, but they were rare.

The isolation of women in the townships could sometimes bring disaster. In one often-told story, a hunter passing a cabin became concerned when he saw no signs of life. He knocked on the door and a weak voice asked him to come in.

Opening the door, he was startled by the appearance of a woman sitting by the fireplace, pale, emaciated, and holding in her arms a puny, sickly babe.

When he asked her what had happened, she told him that her husband had died, leaving her alone. She had become so feeble from hunger and sickness that she could barely sit in the chair. [3]

These frontier women endured a life of constant work, with no respite from dawn to dusk — and usually continuing after dark. Making, mending, washing and ironing clothes occupied an enormous amount of time. In this day of discount stores and washers and driers, it is hard to comprehend the sheer drudgery involved in keeping a family in clean and serviceable clothes.

Laura Clark, a young woman living in 1818 in Wakeman Township, just east of Norwalk, described a typical day in her journal. First did my housework, baked some bread by the fire, washed up all my dishes & scoured off my shelf, cleaned out my chamber, stewed some pumpkin, mended Doctor’s (her husband’s) striped linen trousers washed them & washed out the Crampton frock, got on pot for supper & boiled shell beans (first we had) made pyecrust, strained pumpkin, in the evening made bread. [4]

Food was scarce the first winter, but after that, the cleared land produced melons, pumpkins, corn and other grains and vegetables. The surrounding forests were a source of berries, nuts, honey and occasionally meat, mostly deer purchased from Native Americans. Sally’s husband, like most settlers in the Firelands, did not hunt.

Often, men would come from the surrounding farms to help with larger projects, such as raising buildings and husking corn. On those occasions, Sally and Clarissa would cook and deliver meals to the work site. Communal projects like these were also social occasions, and the pioneers sometimes took advantage of them to have a little fun.

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

GO TO NEXT POST – Social Life on the Frontier

Index of Posts

[1] This quote is from “Oration of Hon. Eleutherous Cooke” in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 6.
[2] “Memoirs of Townships – Wakeman”, by Justin Sherman and Chester Manvil, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, pp. 39-40.
[3] This story is from “Oration of Hon. Eleutherous Cooke” in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, pp. 4-5.
[4] Description of the life of women settlers in the Firelands “The Original Diary of Mrs. Laura (Downs) Clark, of Wakeman, Ohio,” The Firelands Pioneer, January 1920, pp. 2308-2326.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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