A Brief History Of Henry County
Submitted By Chas. A. Crawford
(Henry County, Ohio. Volume One. A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories Compiled by Members and Friends of the Henry County Historical Society. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing Company, 1976. Reprinted 2007 by Tomahawk Printing, Inc., Wauseon, OH. Available from the Henry County Historical Society at www.henrycountyhistory.org/pubs) Edited and revised 2021.
Henry County was formed April 1, 1820, from American Indian territory, and named for Patrick Henry, the celebrated Virginia orator of the Revolutionary Era.
It has an area of about 430 square miles. Population in 1840 was 2,492; in 1860, 8,901; and in 1880, 20,585. Of these people at that time, nearly 100 years ago, 15,721 were born in Ohio. Census by 1890 was 25,080. The census count by 1975 shows a relative slow growth to less than 30,000.
A greater part of the county was covered by the famous Black Swamp. This tract reached over an extent of country 120 miles in length with an average breadth of 40 miles, about equaling in area the state of Connecticut. The Black Swamp was slowly and thinly settled and by 1890 it only had a population of about 50,000; but now, in less than a century, it has been cleared and drained and is now called the “Garden Spot” of Ohio and supports half a million people.
The surface of this area was and is generally level, and it sustained a dense growth of forest trees, among which beech, elm, oak, cottonwood, hickory, walnut, and poplar, most abound. The branches and foliage of the magnificent forest was almost impenetrable to the rays of the sun, and its gloomy silence remained unbroken until disturbed by the restless emigrants of the West.
It must have been an interesting country to travel through. The only place on earth where the greenery is similar is Brazil. The perfect uniformity of its soil, the level surface of the ground, alike retaining and absorbing water, gave the forest a most homogeneous character. And in the year 1855 it could be bought for $1.50 per acre. All you had to do was clear it and drain it and it was yours to farm.
In the meantime this entire region — the Maumee Valley — had undergone extraordinary changes by 1895. Napoleon, the county seat in 1850, was then so insignificant that the entire description could be explained in about three lines: Napoleon, the county seat, is on the Maumee River and the Miami and Erie Canal 17 miles below Defiance, 40 miles above Toledo, and 154 miles northwest of Columbus. It is a small village containing about 300 inhabitants.
Napoleon was plotted in 1832, and the first dwelling, a log cabin, was erected that year. By the census of 1830, two years previous, the entire county had but 262 inhabitants, and its tax valuation in 1823 was but $262. There was a road on the north side of the Maumee River from Waterville to Ft. Wayne, which was six miles up river from Maumee City, where there were five or six dwellings. Then, 18 miles west of Waterville would be four or five dwellings called Providence; thence west up the river the house of Samuel Vance which was located on a site of a farm which was found by Wayne’s army in a high state of cultivation in 1794 and was known as Prarie du Masque. Now it is known as Damascus and a bridge was built there by that name in 1909 and abandoned in 1970. A new Damascus Bridge is to be built and put to use in 1976. This point would bring the traveler 27 miles above Maumee City.
The next house, about two miles above Damascus, was a tavern and trading post owned by John Patrick. Mr. and Mrs. James Phillips live on this farm now. Then, three miles above this the traveler would reach Napoleon where he would discover the settlers enumerated.
As early as 1871, there were five church buildings in Napoleon: Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, and German Lutheran. There were two newspapers: The Northwest by L. Orwig and Co., and the Napoleon Signal by P. B. Ainger. Population of Napoleon by 1880 was 3,032. School census in 1888 was 1,053.
The notorious Simon Girty once resided five miles above Napoleon at a place still called “Girty Island.” His cabin was on the bank of the Maumee a few rods west of the residence of Elijah Gunn. All traces of this habitation have been destroyed by culture and a fine farm now surrounds the spot. (The cabin located near Girty’s Island was actually inhabited by Jame Girty the brother of Simon Girty.)
There were four Girty brothers: Simon, George, Thomas, and James. Their exploits in the late 18th and early 19th centuries are pages of history for which we do not have space in this condensed history of the area.
The Civil War period shows that 704 men enlisted from Henry County and most of them belonged to the Sixty-eighth Regiment which was also composed of members from Fulton, Williams, Paulding, and Defiance counties. Total enlistments in some counties numbered as high as seventy percent of the eligible male population. Most people living today of at least 65 years of age remember many of these great patriotic members of the Grand Army of the Republic from their early school years because many of them were their grandfathers who had fought for the North and in the war to “Preserve the Union.”
The American Indians were familiar to the territory of Henry County, and their moccasined feet trod its wooden forests while their bark canoes sailed over the waters of the Maumee. French traders and trappers were probably the first white men who visited Henry County. These men did nothing to subdue nature. The rifle and the dog were generally their only companions. The hunt and the trap were their only means of support.
Finally came the man with the ax and in his footsteps followed the sawmill. Monster oaks were felled and rafted to Montreal and Quebec and then across the Atlantic where they were converted into ships to ply the storming seas.
No great battles occurred in Henry County in conquest of this land from the American Indians. But the American Armed Forces passed through it many times on their way to and fro between Fort Defiance and the lower rapids of the Maumee and Fort Meigs.
In the year 1830, when the first inventory of the inhabitants was made, the census takers were able to find only 260 persons, young and old, in the county as it was then constituted. These people were not here in search of silver. Nor did they expect to grub for gold!
When Edwin Scribner reached Henry County in 1816, a lad of eight years, there was not a road in the county other than the American Indian trails. Flour had to be made from wheat carried to Monroe, Michigan. When he was only thirteen years of age, he rode on horseback to Greenville and brought back with him bundles of rolls of wool to be spun and woven into clothing for the family. He erected the first sawmill in Henry County on what is known as Dry Creek in now Washington Township and on a farm owned and operated by Robert Bortel today. At one time a rural school house was named after this family near the site.
Henry County, along with several other counties of Northwestern Ohio, was officially set off as a subdivision in 1820. The county was named for Patrick Henry, the distinguished statesman of colonial days. At that time there were not a sufficient number of people in the county to fill the public offices.
It was not until 1823 that there were enough people to organize a township. In 1824 Henry County was still judicially attached to Putnam, Paulding, and Williams Counties. Then Defiance became the seat of justice for Henry County.
It was in 1834 that Henry County was organized as an entirely independent county. In 1845 Henry County was forced to yield a portion in the rormation of Defiance County, and in 1850 another portion was appropriated to form Fulton County.
The first election held in Henry County only had 97 votes cast. The first framed courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1847 and all records were lost to the early historian. It had been erected in 1844 near the site of the present courthouse. It was built by Michael Shurman at a cost of $2,000.
The second courthouse was built in 1849-1850 and it was destroyed by fire in 1879. At that same site the present courthouse was built in 1880-1882.
The village of Deshler was named in recognition of John W. Deshler, who was a large land owner in the neighborhood. The village was incorporated in 1876, the year of the Centennial, and has become a live business center known now as the “Corn City.”
Liberty Center was the second village in the county to become incorporated. It was in 1863 that Alphaes Buchanan first conceived the idea of establishing a trading point where Liberty Center is now located. The Wabash railroad had been built through the area in 1855 and served Colton, Napoleon, and Okolona as well. The tracks, which originated in Toledo, ran across Henry County towards Ft. Wayne and St. Louis.
McClure was plotted by John McClure in 1880 and incorporated in 1886.
Florida is one of the oldest and could possibly be the oldest settlement in the county. Its origin goes back to the early days of the Miami and Erie Canal. Florida did a flourishing business, but the railroads took away its prestige because they went a few miles on either side. Napoleon on one side and Defiance on the other then absorbed most of the canal business.
Holgate arose when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was constructed through the county. Andrew Weaver began business there in 1873 and plotted the village the first year that the trains were run.
Texas is another old village which was also on the Miami and Erie Canal and is a sister town to Florida — both in Henry County. Formerly you were able to take the canal and go from Texas to Florida. Now you use Ohio State Route 24. Texas was founded in 1849 by James Durbin. It was at one time an important trading post and a formidable rival of Napoleon for the county seat.
Hamler was named in honor of John Hamler. It was plotted in 1875.
Malinta, Colton, Ridgeville Corners, Elery, Grelton, New Bavaria, Pleasant Bend, Stanley, and Okolona are other small villages in the county.
And then there are, or were, New Dayton, Ratsville, Shunk, Gallup, West Hope, and even Flickerville, to name a few of the other spots which existed as time went by.
Few statues, markers, or plaques have even been erected in Henry County. There is one that tells the history of one of the greatest engineering feats of early times. It stands along the Maumee River near Independence Dam and reads:
This marker is on the trunk line of both the Miami and Erie Canal and the Wabash and Erie Canal. “The Miami and Erie, built by Ohio, was begun on July 21, 1825, and completed in 1845. It connected the Ohio River at Cincinnati with Lake Erie at Toledo. By the time the canal reached the Maumee Valley, the Wabash and Erie had already been projected from Ft. Wayne to Toledo. At junction, some 15 miles southwest from here the two canals joined and became one. Indians built the Wabash and Erie Canal from Evansville on the Ohio River to Toledo on Lake Erie. It was begun on Feb.
22, 1832, a date which honored George Washington who had first suggested the construction of canals in this region. When finished in 1856 it was 458 miles long and one of the longest canals ever built. By the time of the Civil War the canals were being superceded by the swifter, more dependable railroads. Section by section the canals were abandoned. In the early nineteen hundreds, the colorful period of the canal came to an end.”
Erected in 1954 by
Ft. Defiance Chapter
Daughters of the American Revolution
The people who came to make their way in Henry County had to trust in themselves and their God. They had to be sturdy; they had to love work; they had to be thrifty and honest; and they could not fail.
There was no vein of silver to search for nor a rich mother lode of gold to grub for. Henry County never had a Sutters Mill nor a Klondike to stampede its people.
Instead of instant riches, Henry County now has grown to nearly 30,000 souls. The biographies of many of these families will be inscribed forever in this book.
Geographical Description Of Henry County
This article is taken from: An Inventory of Ohio Soils — Henry County, by Cecil Flesher
Henry County is located in northwestern Ohio within the eastern confines of the midwestern corn belt. Napoleon is the county seat and largest city. The county lies entirely within the glacial lake plain and the dominant topography is a level, nearly featureless plain that slopes gradually toward Lake Erie. This plain is broken, in places, by gently sloping sandy beach ridges or sand ridges and knolls, by the relatively deep valley of the Maumee River, and by the shallow valleys of its numerous tributaries. The northern part of the county, from Napoleon eastward, has extensive sandy deposits. These deposits cover most of Liberty, Washington, Damascus and Harrison townships.
Henry County was covered by the Wisconsin Age Glacier many centuries ago. As the ice sheet melted, it remained stationary for a period of time near the northern border of Ohio. This blocked or dammed the drainage so the meltwater from the glacier formed extensive, shallow lakes over part of northwestern Ohio and all of Henry County.
The soils of Henry County formed from several different types of parent materials. Soil textures vary from clay to sand. Most of the soils of the county have developed under poor natural drainage conditions. Excess water is removed from most of these soils with tile drainage systems and/or open ditches.
The lowest elevation in Henry County, 640 feet, occurs on the Maumee River at the Wood county line. The highest elevation, 750 feet, is near Ridgeville Corners in northwestern Henry County.
Henry County is dominantly agricultural. Corn, soybeans and wheat are the leading cash crops and tomatoes and sugar beets are specialty crops. Poor natural drainage is the major soil management problem.
Henry County has a humid-temperate type climate with an average frost free season of 162 days. The average dates of spring and fall killing frosts are May 4 and October 12.
The prevailing winds are westerly. Humidity is moderately high. Henry County has an annual average precipitation of about 36 inches.