Damascus was first settled by whites in two general areas. The first area near the mouth of the south Turkey Foot, now owned by Dr. Thomas Brown, is known as Odessa. This area was probably an old Indian haunt and was taken up by the Reid family as early as 1838-40. The Reids came from Scotland, and parlayed hard work and enterprise into large landholdings along Road 5-A, once known as Reid Street. Odessa prospered for a time while the Miami and Erie Canal made port on the Turkey Foot.
Apparently an epidemic of cholera and progress nearly finished the community, but before the railroad put McClure (1880) on the map, Odessa was the only community of any size in the township, and at one time boasted of a sawmill, gristmill, and at least one store. Of late, Odessa is only a place name to people of the township and to the residents of the assorted dwellings along the creek.
The other area of early settlement in Damascus Township was along the eastern edge. This most likely occurred because of travel along the Wapakoneta Trail and Big Creek. Into this area came the Rowlands in the 1840’s, the McLains, David Hickman, the Bells, James Fiser, and Ballmers. Settlement in this area was less concentrated than around Odessa. But the land was cleared, churches and schools founded, and life on the frontier began.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 designated certain areas being set aside for schools. The early settlers took this cue and established at least 9 schools throughout the township before they were consolidated into the Central School in McClure about 1917.
Today a drive around the township will show the remnants of the “little brick schoolhouses” that “learned” our parents. Only three buildings remain; The Foltz, Big Creek or “Brush College” and Odessa.
The fate of the local churches through the township is much the same as the schools. All have been consolidated, forgotten, or transformed into homes, yet they stand as a monument to those founders of this land whose faith in themselves was surpassed only by their faith in God.
While the river served as the primary transport connection to commerce, Odessa flourished and the ferry to Texas at the foot of Bob Wagner’s lane carried Damascans to that thriving canal town across the river. However, once the Cloverleaf Railroad cut through the woods from Toledo to Grand Rapids, to Delphos, the fate of the canal-river connection was sealed. Now the railroad town was the link to the world and all along the track sprang up those little towns that still dot the county; McClure, Grelton, Malinta, Elery, Holgate and on down the road.
Laid out in 1880 on the farm of John McClure, the village of McClure was incorporated in 1886. The new town was near the junction of two proposed railroads, the Coldwater, Mansfield and Lake Michigan and the Toledo, Delphos and Burlington (also later known as the Cloverleaf, the Nickle Plate and now the Norfolk and Western). The Coldwater never passed the grade stage but the T,D and B was built and the town flourished. A relic of this growth period (circa 1890) still stands east of the McClure Elevator along the railroad. The McClure Machine and Manufacturing Building is all that remains of the ambitious scheme to produce farm machinery in McClure. Despite the company’s failure, a new addition to the town was platted, people were attracted and new businesses were established.
Businessmen are the first to recognize the change and the smart ones take action. One such character was Thomas Durbin, who moved his store from Texas across the river to McClure. He built a store and eventually, a bank on the site of the present bank building in McClure.
(Reprinted from Henry County, Ohio. A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories Compiled by Members and Friends of The Henry County Historical Society, Volume I. Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, TX, 1976.)