In 1835, when Napoleon became the county seat, only a few residents had been attracted by the beauty of the location and the fertility of the soil. Napoleon was a crossroads settlement then, with only a few log cabins huddled together. The first dwelling was a log cabin, 12 x 14, owned by Mr. Huston or Mr. Andrews. Then, two years later, George Stout joined the community and built a two-story log cabin, which he opened for the traveling public. In the dining room of this tavern, the first two or three terms of the Common Pleas Court were held. The first grand jury bedded down for the night in the haymow in the nearby barn.
Shortly afterwards, Gearge Stout erected a rear addition to his tavern for the administration of the affairs of the county. As court was held semi-annually, and then for a few days at a time, the landlord enjoyed full possession of the room the remainder of the year. After the adjournment of court, the custom was to hold an old-fashioned “shindig”, where the officials, tenants, litigants, and witnesses freely partook of the liquid refreshments.
This old log addition served the county’s needs until 1844, when a plain frame two-story affair with courtrooms on the second floor was built for $2,000.00. This was destroyed by fire in April, 1847, and all the valuable records of the county were lost. The first jail, constructed of logs, stood just south of our present jail, but on the south side of the canal.
The second Courthouse was built a few years later on the two adjoining lots for $7,495.75. This new brick structure was small and quaint with an impressive entrance of white pillars, bell tower, and spire. The jail was on the side on the ground floor, where anyone could walk up to the grated windows, converse with the prisoners, and through the bars hand them anything from a short gun or a jug of whiskey to a set of burglar tools. In 1879 burning brands, from the “Dutch Row Fire” on North Perry, blew east across the street and landed on top of the Courthouse. The latter was leveled completely by fire before the blaze in the row of buildings was contained.
The present Courthouse was completed in 1882 for $95,000 plus $20,000 for the County Jail, both of which remain in use.
Although today, Napoleon has approximately 2,000 residences there were only three small frame houses in Napoleon in 1837. Agricultural potentialities in this area had not been realized then because of the lack of transportation to the more heavily populated and industrialized eastern cities.
The completion of the Miami-Erie Canal (1843), which passed through Napoleon, alleviated this situation, fostering the development of the town in population and industry. The canal was operated until the turn of the century, but was used profitably by the State of Ohio only until the appearance of the railroads. Most of the canal bed now has been drained and certain segments have become part of Route 24 and 424.
In 1863, the year of its incorporation, there were hardly a dozen stores in the entire town and very little manufacturing. Yet, two decades later there were more industries, more mercantile businesses than now, in proportion to the inhabitants.
The first name chosen by the settlers for this village was Oakland. It was said that the name was chosen because the town was in the heart of the heavily timbered region of mainly oak trees. There was another Oakland in Fairfield County, Ohio, so another name had to be chosen.
Okolona was a depot for furnishing fuel for the railroad in early days when the locomotives burned wood. The oak trees furnished ties for the railroad and oak timbers that were used in building ships.
No matter whether it was called Dogtown, Bostelman’s Corners, or Half-way House, the location has stayed the same for over one hundred years. Three miles west of Napoleon at U.S. 6 and County Road 17 stood two tavern-roadhouses. One was Peter Bostelman’s. They were notorious for the rowdiness of the customers, and the fights among customers, passerbys, and onlookers. An early name for a tavern was a “doggery” and some think that is how the corners got the name Dogtown. In December, 1896, the name changed to Bostelman’s Corners. Somewhere over the years the corners also became known as Halfway House because it was about halfway between Napoleon and Ridgeville.
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.