Sufferers’ Land – Post 8 – Making a New Town on the Frontier

Sufferers’ Land

Making a New Town on the Frontier

by Dave Barton

Platt Benedict moved to the frontier to establish a town. But in order to have a town, he needed people, and convincing people to settle on his land proved not to be easy. His best chance for success would be if Norwalk became the County Seat. The traffic created by the business of government would entice people to settle and start businesses in the town. This was the reason he and Elisha Whittlesey had bought land on the sand ridge. However, for their plans to bear fruit, they had to convince the state legislature to move the County Seat from its location at Avery.

A committee appointed to examine the matter considered several locations: Eldridge, Milan, Gibbs and Lockwood’s Corners, Norwalk, Monroe, a location on the west bank of the Huron River, and Sandusky. After several backroom machinations and a good deal of political intrigue, the committee decided in late spring of 1818 that the County Seat would be in Norwalk. With this problem solved, settlers could be persuaded to buy into the new town, and Platt could get down to business. [1]

That summer, Platt had a frame barn built near his cabin, and contracted to have bricks made for a house he planned to build the next year. Amos Abbott bought a lot in Norwalk and started building a house for a tavern. Unfortunately, he died soon afterwards while on his way back to Norwalk from visiting Connecticut.

As preparations started for the convening of the court in Norwalk, a steady stream of people visited the sand ridge. In August, to meet the needs of these visitors and prepare for the arrival of the settlers he knew were coming, Platt obtained a license to operate a tavern, doing business in his home. [2]

The future looked promising for the Benedict family, and, as is the case with most parents, Platt and Sally began to consider the education of their children.

 

Footnotes:
[1] Description of the difficulties in getting people to settle in Norwalk are described in “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 19-20.
[2] A listing of licenses and permits for taverns and stores, of marriages, of justices sworn and churches incorporated are from “Official Records of the Firelands,” The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, pp. 21-26.

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This post was first published on this blog in 2009.

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 6 – A Home in the Wilderness

Sufferers’ Land

A Home in the Wilderness

by Dave Barton

 

A day or so from their destination, Platt and Sally received bad news. Their cabin had burned down.

Mr. Stewart, whom Platt had hired to clear and fence four acres of land on the flats south of the sand ridge, had gone out of the cabin one morning, leaving a fire to dry his clothes. When he returned at noon for dinner, he found the cabin ablaze. He immediately left the area, not forgetting to take the provisions Platt had bought for him. [1]

The news devastated Platt and Sally. Footsore and weary, soaked and depressed by constant rain, they knew that they would have to get their family under shelter quickly before winter set in. They decided to stop at the home of the Gibbs and Lockwood families, located a mile and a half northeast of their land on the sand ridge; at the corner of what are now East Main Street and Old State Road. At four o’clock, Tuesday afternoon, the ninth of September, they came upon a cleared area in the forest where they found the Gibbs and Lockwood’s cabin and ramshackle barn. [2]

Lockwood Gibbs Cabin

“David Gibbs,” Obituaries: The Firelands Pioneer, New Series, Volume IX, The Firelands Historical Society, 1896, pp. 544

The two families lived in two one-room structures with a common roof and separated by a breezeway, one family in each cabin. David and Elizabeth Gibbs and their family had arrived in Ohio the previous year, accompanied by Elizabeth’s brother Henry Lockwood and his wife Amelia.* The two families had a harder trip than the Benedicts and Keelers and each lost a child on the road. Looking at her own children, Sally must have been thankful that they had all made the trip safely.

John and Ruth Boalt and their eleven children had arrived several weeks previously. Ruth Boalt was the sister of Henry Lockwood and Elizabeth Gibbs. The Boalts were sick with malaria, or ague as the settlers called it. They lay in the Lockwood cabin, burning with fever, Fanny nursing them as best she could. [3]

The travelers crowded into the Gibbs cabin for supper. After eating, the unmarried men went to the barn to sleep and the families settled down in the cabin as best they could. As she lay in a makeshift bed on the floor of the crowded little cabin, Sally must have thought of her home in Connecticut and wished she were back there, safe and warm. During the night, a big storm blew through the clearing, rain and wind rattling the “shakes” that covered the roof of the cabin.

Dawn finally came, and the single men dragged into the cabin, exhausted. The barn had provided scant protection against the storm. Rain came through the roof as if it was a sieve, soaking their beds and making for a miserable and sleepless night.

After breakfast, the men shouldered axes and saws and trudged down the trail along the sand ridge to where the Benedict cabin had burned down. Sally helped Elizabeth take care of the children and prepare dinner for the men. Around noon, the women followed the men’s tracks along the sand ridge with their dinner. They found the work progressing well. Men had come in from the surrounding farms to help. Sally could see that by the end of the day they would finish erecting her new home.

Our Cabin - Historical Collections of Ohio I p 316

Henry Howe, History of Ohio, Vol I; Laning Publishing, Norwalk, OH, 1898; p 316

The log house was only twenty feet square, with no doors, windows or fireplace, but it was good enough to provide shelter. The next day, Platt moved in and Sally cooked breakfast for the men by a log next to the cabin. [4]

Over the next few days, the men continued to improve the cabin, building a fireplace and chimney with clay and sticks, chinking and mudding the cracks and cutting holes in the walls for two doors and two windows. They accomplished all this without a single nail or other ironwork. Platt had brought two sashes for the windows from Connecticut, but had no glass, so they used greased paper instead. They finished five days later, and Sally and the children moved in. Conditions were primitive. There was no furniture and no floor.

Mud spoiled the mattresses Sally had brought from Connecticut, so Platt made two bedsteads, one for him and Sally and the other for their daughters. They were primitive — frames attached to the walls of the cabin and webbed with basswood bark instead of cords. However, according to Platt, they were very comfortable, and after almost two months on the road, Sally probably agreed that they were a welcome relief from sleeping on the ground. [5]

With the Benedict cabin finished, the men moved on to the land John Boalt had purchased from Platt on Old State Highway, south-east of the Benedict’s cabin. They built a double cabin there and the Boalts moved down from the Gibbs and Lockwood homestead as soon as they recovered their health. [6]

Sally and Platt had established a new home on the frontier. Now they had to make it through their first winter.

 

 

Footnotes:
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk,” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 17-18.
[2] The description of the arrival at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[3] “Incidents in the Life of Mrs. Elizabeth L. Gibbs,” The Firelands Pioneer, October 1874, pp. 83-84.
[4] The description of the first night at the Gibbs and Lockwood cabin and the raising of the Benedict cabin is from “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, March 1860, p. 16.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 18.
[6] “Personal Memoirs” by Seth Jennings, The Firelands Pioneer, p. 17.

* CORRECTION: The original post of this blog in 2009 identified Henry Gibbs wife as Fanny. When checking sources for this post, I found that her name was instead Amelia. Source: “Henry Lockwood,” Obituaries, The Firelands Pioneer, Old Series, Vol VII, June 1866, page 812

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This post was first published on this blog in 2009, and also on September 9, 2017 as A Home in the Wilderness Revisited.

 

 

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Sufferers’ Land – Post 1 – Land of Opportunity

Sufferers’ Land

Land of Opportunity

by David Barton

In his fortieth year, Platt Benedict left his home in Danbury, Connecticut, and traveled to the Ohio wilderness in search of a new home for his family. It was September 1815. The war with the British had ended a few months earlier, re-opening the frontier for settlement. [1]

1023264188268om802_0021An energetic man, Platt had a stern and businesslike visage, and, to judge from his writing, he spoke in a businesslike manner as well. Born in March 1775, only a month before the battles of Lexington and Concord ignited the Revolutionary War, his early experiences were of that war — he was eight years old when it ended.

He came from a distinguished family, a descendant of Thomas Benedict, who had settled in New England in 1638 and established a clan of American Benedicts that number in the tens of thousands today. A respected member of the Danbury community, Platt’s father Jonas Benedict served as the town’s representative to the General Assembly of Connecticut in 1809. Platt was also active in the town. From 1812 to 1817, he was collector of the port of Danbury. [2] He was active in the Masons, becoming associated with that fraternity in 1811. [3]

Platt was not what we typically think of as a pioneer, nothing like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. He did not own a rifle or any other weapon. Like many New Englanders of the time, he was a man of business and a farmer. His weapons against the wilds of the frontier were the axe and saw, the hoe and plow. With these, he and his fellow Yankees would clear the forests and till the fields, changing the landscape of northern Ohio from wilderness to productive farmland.

Although he had been a successful man in Danbury, Platt wanted more than what was available to him in New England. In the west lay the opportunity to begin a new life — and establish a new town. No doubt, he had considered the possibility for years, but the War of 1812 put a hiatus on westward emigration, stymieing his plans. At the war’s end, he took decisive action.

western-reserveHe was bound for the “Firelands” or “Sufferer’s Land,” a part of the Connecticut Western Reserve that had been set aside for nineteen-hundred residents of coastal Connecticut towns that lost their homes and property because of British raids during the Revolution. The settlers would use the names of those Connecticut towns — Greenwich, Norwalk, Fairfield, Danbury, New Haven, East Haven, New London, Ridgefield and Groton — to name the townships and villages of the Firelands. [4]

The Firelands was not large, only five-hundred-thousand acres, roughly consisting of what are now Erie and Huron Counties. The frontier was ending in Ohio, and, except for the swamps of the northwest corner, the Firelands would be the last area settled in the state.

Platt did not go directly to the Firelands. He stopped first in Canfield, Ohio, a town founded by Connecticut Yankees years before. His cousin Eli Boughton introduced him to a leader of the Canfield community named Elisha Whittlesey, who had moved to Canfield from Danbury, Connecticut in 1806. [5]

elisha-whittlesey

Elisha Whittlesey

A leader in state politics, Elisha served as Prosecuting Attorney for the Court of Common Pleas in Warren. [6] He also saw opportunity in the Firelands, and had organized an expedition to investigate the possibilities. Recognizing Platt’s potential and desire, he invited him along.

The expedition traveled to Avery, Ohio, two miles north of where the town of Milan is today. The earliest settlers to the region had recently chosen Avery, one of the few settlements in the Firelands, as the county seat of newly founded Huron County, which included present day Erie County. [7] Platt and Elisha stayed at the home of David Abbott, who had first come to the Firelands before the War of 1812 from Chagrin, Ohio, where he had settled in 1802. He was of an older generation of settlers of the Firelands, a generation that had experienced war, famine and hardship. [8]

The first County Court convened in David Abbott’s home soon after Platt and Elisha arrived, with about forty men attending. David Abbott served County Clerk, and one of the Associate Judges of the court was another early settler named Almon Ruggles. Almon owned land along the lake, and had surveyed the Firelands several years earlier.

Many of the men attending voiced their dissatisfaction with Avery as County Seat. They favored a sand ridge south of town, but were concerned that water might be lacking. After the Court adjourned, Platt and Elisha went to the home of Abijah Comstock in Norwalk Township, and asked him to guide them to the sand ridge. [9]

Abijah was from New Canaan, Connecticut. His father had received a claim from some of the original “Sufferers” of Norwalk, Connecticut who had been burned out of their homes during the Revolution. Abijah’s brother settled in Norwalk Township in 1809, but returned to Connecticut because of bad health. He turned his homestead over to Abijah, who came to the township in the summer of 1810. [10]

He guided Platt and Elisha to the sand ridge. They were pleased to find sufficient water, and a large meadow where nearby residents grazed their cattle. An Indian trail and several wagon tracks crossed the ridge. [11] It was covered with a few oaks, being what was then termed an oak opening — a sand ridge, with an undergrowth of whortleberry bushes. [12]

Elisha knew that the owners of the land — a man named Colonel Taylor and a woman named Polly Bull, both living in Connecticut — were willing to sell. The men agreed that Platt should start immediately for Connecticut to make them an offer. Time was short. The opportunity was now, and the men were determined not to lose it.

Platt traveled by horse, spending many hours each day in the saddle. He reached Danbury in eleven days, an amazing feat for that time, and went immediately to Colonel Taylor’s home in New Milford, sixteen miles away. Colonel Taylor owned five hundred and sixty acres on the sand ridge and he agreed to sell it to Platt for $2.25 an acre.

Platt next visited Polly Bull, a widow who owned eight hundred and sixty acres near the ridge. She and her late husband had settled in the Firelands in 1811, but they fled to Cleveland at the beginning of the War of 1812. After her husband’s death in October 1812, Polly had returned with her children to their home in New Milford, Connecticut. She did not intend to return to the Firelands, and agreed to sell her land to Platt for $2.00 per acre.

The following spring, Platt paid Colonel Taylor and Polly for their lands and sent the deeds to Elisha in Canfield. Elisha returned to the Firelands and contracted Judge Almon Ruggles to survey a town plat with forty-eight lots. They named the town Norwalk. [13]
Platt prepared to move to the Firelands, arranging for the sale of his house and belongings and divesting himself of his businesses. However, something was about to happen in New England that would delay his plans, and change the lives of many in the region.

 

 

Footnotes
[1] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 16. & The Firelands Pioneer, October 1896, p. 108.
[2] Family History: Wickham, Benedict, Preston & Deaver, by Agnes & Harriott Wickham, edited by Dave Barton, 2006, pp. 4-6.
[3] The Genealogy of the Benedicts in America, by Henry Marvin Benedict, 1870, p. 381.
[4] From the speech of the Honorable John Sherman, printed in The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, p. 11.
[5] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 16-17
[6] Elisha Whittlesey’s story is from “Elisha Whittlesey,” by A. Newton, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1864, pp. 10-18.
[7] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk” by Samuel B. Lewis, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1858, p. 33
[8] Story of David Abbott is in “Scattered Sheaves – No. 1 – By Ruth, The Firelands Pioneer, November 1859, pp. 21-26.
[9] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[10] The story of the settlement of Norwalk Township by the Comstock family is from “Early Settlers of Norwalk,” by Philo Comstock, The Firelands Pioneer, June 1868, pp. 105-108.
[11] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17.
[12] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Henry Lockwood, Esq., The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, pp. 27-28.
[13] “Memoirs of Townships – Norwalk”, by Platt Benedict, The Firelands Pioneer, May 1859, p. 17

 

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Sufferers’ Land Reboot

Because of the positive response to my recent post, A Home in the Wilderness Revisited, I have decided to repost the entire Sufferers’ Land series from 2008 and 2009. I begin with the inaugural post of the Firelands History Website, first published on December 14, 2008.

 

Sufferers’ Land

Prologue

by David Barton

 

“Sufferers’ Land.”

The “Firelands.”

These evocative and descriptive phrases refer to a region in northern Ohio set aside by the state of Connecticut for “Sufferers” who were burned out of their homes by the British in the American Revolution. Part of the Western Reserve, it covers present-day Huron and Erie counties.

 

Emigrating to New Connecticut

Emigrating to New Connecticut 1817-1818 [1]

After the War of 1812, a flood of emigration erupted out of crowded New England, the result of a pent up desire for new land that had been held in check by the threat of Native Americans defending their homes, and the spur of economic hardship engendered by the catastrophic “Year without Summer” of 1816. Most of these pioneers were bound for the Firelands.

Thus began one of the great migrations of American history; a flood of humanity that poured out of New England and settled lands stretching along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from upstate New York to Illinois and across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

These settlers greatly impacted the history of the United States. In the 1850’s, some of them entered Kansas and clashed with the leading edge of another great migration that had settled the South — a tragic foreshadowing of the Civil War. The grandchildren of the settlers of the Old Northwest formed the backbone of the Union Army of the West during that war and made possible the Republican majority that ruled the nation for most of the remainder of the century.

I intend to tell the stories of those who settled in the Firelands: people like Platt and Sally Benedict, who founded Norwalk, Ohio; Samuel Preston, who founded the Huron Reflector, which became Norwalk’s present-day newspaper; Samuel’s daughter Lucy, who persuaded a ship captain named Frederick Wickham to marry her, leave the sea and become a newspaperman with her father; Henry Buckingham, a failed businessman who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and many more.

These men and women left their comfortable New England homes and traveled to the wilds of the Ohio frontier. They were ordinary people who persevered in an extraordinary endeavor. The fruits of their labor are on display throughout the Firelands today.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you enjoy my story.

Dave Barton
Littleton, Colorado

 

Footnote:

[1] From Henry Howes’ book, Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes, Volume II, 1900, page 668.

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A Wasted Life

In my last post, “Young in Years – Old in Crime”, I am afraid I may have left you, dear readers, with the impression that J.W. Johnson’s life of crime was the result of an inadequate upbringing and hellish treatment in his teens at the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio. I can’t comment on his upbringing, but after researching the school, I no longer lay the fault for his incorrigible behavior on them.

The school began as the Ohio Reform School in 1858 a reformatory for boys between eight and eighteen years old. In 1884, the name was changed to the Boys’ Industrial School.

Administration Building Lancaster Boys Industrial School

Administration Building, 1907

I confess that my image of reformatory schools in the late 19th century was Dickensian: miserable inmates enduring harsh treatment inflicted by cruel guards and matrons. However, according to the sources I cite at the bottom of this post, the Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster was nothing like that.

The school used an “open system” where the boys lived in cottages and moved freely about the grounds. They spent their mornings in class, and afternoons working on the school’s farm, or learning a trade.

Although it probably was not a bed of roses,

Bob Hope

Bob Hope as a boy in England

the school was not a hell hole, either. Bob Hope spent time there as a boy, and from what I understand, he turned out okay. Later in life, he donated a substantial amount of money to the school, so apparently he had fond memories of the place.

Long story short, in my humble opinion, J.W. Johnson’s life of crime cannot be laid at the door of the Boys’ Industrial School. Whether it was the result of his early upbringing, I cannot say. I have no idea what who his parents were or what kind of life they gave him, no more than I know if he reformed his ways in later years. Perhaps some day, I will look into his heritage, and his life post 1907. If you know anything about him, dear readers, please let us know in the comments below.

That’s it for the saga of J.W. Johnson–for now. Here are links to the previous two posts in this series, if you’d like to catch up.

 

More Basketball – Class of 1907: Which Side of the Tracks.

Young in Years – Old in Crime.

 

Sources:

“Boys’ Industrial School,” Ohio History Connection.

State of Ohio boys industrial school inmate case records, 1858-1918. Family Search

Boys’ Industrial School at Lancaster, Asylum Project:

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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.

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norwich-township-map

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.

Notes:

[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.

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Norwalk, Ohio High School, 1906-1907

Do you have old photos knocking around of your ancestors–and you have no idea who they are–or even if they are your ancestors?

Well I thought I had both problems when I found the photo below at my mother’s house a decade ago. I knew that one of the students was my grandmother. But which one? Then I turned the photo over and found what every genealogist and historian dreams of–my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton (descendant of Firelands Pioneers Platt Benedict and Frederick Wickham) had identified not just herself, but every one of her classmates.

Norwalk High School - Junior, Senior Study Hall

Junior, Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, 1906.

I was thrilled, of course, to identify my grandmother (tenth back in the far right column). But then I began to wonder: who are the rest of these people? Where did they live? What were their families like and when did they come to the Firelands?

So I began to research them,focusing on the Class of 1907: on Ancestry, in back issues of the  Firelands Pioneer, and any other source I could find. This was a homogeneous group, compared to schools today, but had their distinctions. And they grew up to have varied careers: some successful, some not–and some just seemed to disappear. Some of the men went off to war, others did not. Most of the women married and had families, others had careers. One of the men became a soldier-statesman: becoming a U.S. Senator, and not only serving in both world wars, but also on General Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa.

I’ve only scratched the surface in my research of the Class of 1907. But on this, the 110th anniversary of their senior year, I have decided to share what I’ve learned so far with you, visitors to this blog, and solicit you help in filling in blanks where you can.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

 

 

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