Henry County Mysteries
By the late Russ Patterson

“A good way to study history or your family history is to become a history detective. A history detective can look at a picture or an antique and see things that other people don’t see. A history detective knows where to find information on a subject he is trying to research. For Henry County history the three volumes of history compiled by the Historical Society in 1975-1977 is an excellent source of information. The local library also has the local newspapers on microfilm when you are researching a specific year.” – Russ

Henry County Mystery #1:

How did the Maumee River get its name?

Contrary to the old timers’ tale of French traders overhearing an Indian child calling “Mau-me” to his mother who was on the ohter side of the river, this did not name the river. The river was named by French traders however, but for another reason. According to Dr. Charles Slocum in his book, History of the Maumee River Basin, published in 1905, the French traders did encounter Indians along the river. The French traders understood that the name of the tribe of Indians was Me-ah-me, and referred to the river as Riviere des Miamis. Later the people who settled in this region pronounced the name in two syllables as Mau-mee.

A typical Miami or Ottawa village along the Maumee River circa the 1770s-1800.

Henry County Mystery #2:

How did Napoleon, Ohio, get its name?

In the book, History of Henry and Fulton Counties, published in 1888, it is stated that “the proprietors of Napoleon, namely Horatio G. Phillips, Benjamin Leavell, and Elnathan Cory called this place Napoleon. Why is a question not to be demonstrated or solved at this time.” The original plat of Napoleon, Ohio was recorded on October 15, 1834. This date can be considered Napoleon’s official birthday. Elnathan Cory, one of the proprietors of Napoleon, was a land speculator. In 1836 he established the towns of Marengo and Austerlitz. Both of these towns were short lived and failed. These two towns were named after two famous battles won by Napoleon Bonaparte. Apparently Elnathan Cory was fascinated by the life of Napoleon Bonaparte and convinced his partners to name their new town “Napoleon”.

Henry County Mystery #3:

Why didn’t the 1820 U.S. Census include Henry County, Ohio?

The state of Ohio was formed in 1803 and Henry County was formed in 1820. The answer is that in 1820 there were not enough people in Henry County to enumerate. The 1830 census of Henry County lists only 262 people. In fact most of the area of Northwest Ohio had a very sparse population in the early 1800’s. Most of Northwest Ohio was covered by the Black Swamp and the land was wet. The name Black Swamp came from the heavy cover of massive trees and the black mud below them. This swamp was a major barrier to settlement during the half century of the 1800’s. The swamp was mainly located on the south side of the Maumee River and some areas north of the river. It extended south in some places 40 miles wide. With the wetness came mosquitoes which caused Maumee Fever, Ague, Malaria, and other associated diseases. The settler who had access to Quinine had a beneficial cure. The Toledo Blade of February 8, 1838 reported on the Black Swamp Road of the drowning of a span of horses in a swamp mud hole, the bottoms of which had fallen out. The draining of the swamp and the clearing of trees on the land eliminated both the swamp and mosquitoes. To experience what the Black Swamp was like you can visit the Goll Woods State Nature Preserve near Archbold, Ohio and you can see a virgin stand of swamp forest.

Henry County Mystery #4:

Why did the Irish and German immigrant canal workers fight over a corpse?

In the 1840’s there were Irish and German workers digging the Miami and Erie Canal through Napoleon. When one ofthe Irish workers died, his body was placed on a two-wheeled cart and they headed for the old cemetery. This cemetery was located on the hill in back of Grogan’s Auto Company near the Napoleon water tower. When the Irish arrived at the grave site they found their corpse missing. Then they saw the German’s coming up the hill with a corpse. The Irish immediately thought the German’s had stole their corpse and a fight ensued. Someone noticed a corpse on the side of the hill and discovered it to be the Irish corpse that apparently had slipped out of the cart. Turns out, the German’s had their own corpse to bury.

Henry County Mystery #5

Why didn’t the Napoleon Fire Department respond to the school fire in 1869?

This very disastrous and destructive fire in Napoleon on November 1, 1869 brought the attention of the citizens of Napoleon to the necessity of some organized and efficient system of fire protection. Most of the entire block of East Washington Street including the schoolhouse, was destroyed in this fire. Most of the buildings in this block were of wood frame and were heated by wood burning stoves. When a fire occurred the citizens would form a bucket brigade and pass water by the bucketful from a water source such as the canal to the fire. With the loss of the schoolhouse located on East Clinton Street in back of the present-day Ace Hardware and the loss of the businesses on East Washington Street it became time to organize a fire department. It was not until October of 1872 that the city purchased a steam fire engine. This engine became known as “Old Betsy Jane” and was housed in a brick building erected in 1875 on East Washington St. Finally the town of Napoleon had a fire department and a means of controlling fires.

Henry County Mystery #6:

How did Napoleon, Ohio almost have its name changed to Henry, Ohio?

The petitioners wanted to Americanize the name Napoleon to be named Henry after Patrick Henry, and wanted the county seat to be named Henry like the county. This was the result of the popular movement to Americanize names of towns and places in the 1850’s. After the petitioners received approval from the Commissioners on June 24, 1853, for seven weeks, the Democratic Northwest News listed their address as Henry, Ohio. The same year, Augustin Pilliod, a Frenchman, started construction of a three story flouring mill on Front Street in Napoleon. Mr. Pilliod opposed changing the name of the town and on October 10, 1853, the day a new Mayor and Councilmen were to be elected for the newly incorporated village of Henry, Mr. Pilliod and friends of “Napoleon” made such a demonstration that the election could not proceed, resulting in Napoleon remaining Napoleon. The incorporation of the village of Napoleon was delayed for 10 years until 1863. At that time no mention was made for changing the name.

Henry County Mystery #7:

Why was 1879 a bad year for Napoleon?

On January 30, 1879 15″ chunks of ice moved against the bridge and carried away two of the bridge spans on the north side of the bridge. This bridge was made of wood with iron rods. A newspaper article tells about Fred Coleman driving over the bridge at this time, when he heard a crash behind him and saw the first span give way. He put his horses in a run and just cleared the second span when it gave way and was destroyed. In the mid-afternoon, the ice started flowing again and two more spans were swept away destroying this bridge. A new iron whipple style was then constructed in the spring and summer and was completed in August of 1879. This was the third bridge to be constructed over the Maumee in Napoleon.

Then on Sunday at 2:30 a.m. of November 9, 1879 a fire occurred that almost destroyed downtown Napoleon. The fire started in a building on the comer of Perry and Main Streets. There was strong south wind blowing at the time and the fire spread with terrible rapidity. Twenty-two buildings were destroyed including the Henry County Courthouse. The loss to the merchants was estimated at $70,700. Many of the downtown buildings you see today were built after this fire. Our present courthouse was rebuilt in 1880 and completed in 1882.

Henry County Mystery #8:

The first bridge across the Maumee River at Napoleon was what type of bridge?

Prior to 1860 people had to use a ferry to cross the Maumee River at Napoleon. The ferry was operated by Joe Merse and landed at the foot of Monroe Street from the south side.

In 1860 a wooden covered bridge with a roof finished like an attic was constructed. These covered bridges had a roof which helped protect the surface of the bridge and made it last longer. Many of the covered bridges are still in existence in New England and southern Ohio. Some of the younger boys would take a few boards and place them on the rafters and sleep under the roof in the summertime. Ed Lingle drove the first team of horses across this covered bridge in November of 1860. In the evenings the townspeople used the covered bridge for a barn for their cows. The covered bridges were also known as kissing bridges as courting couples on an afternoon ride would go across a covered bridge to steal a kiss so they would not be seen by the townsfolk.

In 1874 this covered bridge was deemed unsafe and was torn down. A second wooden bridge with iron rods was built to replace the covered bridge.

Henry County Mystery #9:

In 1865, J.C. Saur established a drug store in Napoleon. What was the occupation of his wife Prudence?

J. C. (Charley) Saur located his drug store at 705 N. Perry Street in Napoleon in 1865. For the next 140 years there was a drug store at this location, operated by various owners. The outstanding feature of his store was a large gold color mortar and pestle located on the top of the building. This mortar and pestle could be seen for several miles in every direction. In the front window was a crystal mortar which scattered its many colored rays of light in every direction. His store was well stocked with all the latest medicines and surgical appliances of the time. His wife, Prudence B. Saur graduated from the Medical College of Philadelphia in March of 1871 and returned to Napoleon to establish her practice. Her office was located in the Saur Drug Store. She was one of the first four ladies who gained entrance to the State Medical Society. In 1887, she wrote a book “Maternity A Book for Every Wife and Mother”.

Henry County Mystery #10:

Why did the Democratic Northwest issue an “EXTRA” edition of the newspaper in 1883?

Ticket to Johnson HangingAlthough the Democratic Northwest issued a weekly edition published on Thursdays, they issued an “EXTRA” edition on Friday, October 26, 1883 when they learned about the brutal murders of George Williams and his wife. Upon discovery of this murder their two month old baby, Charles Foster Williams, was found in his bed crying and famished. The murder occurred on a Tuesday evening and was not discovered until Thursday around 1 :00 p.m. by a neighbor. George was found lying in the barn with his throat cut and a gash in his head. Mrs. Williams was found lying on the bedroom floor with her skull cut open. Suspicion fell OD Wesley Johnson, a man employed by Williams’ uncle. George Williams had sold clover seed and the murder was evidently committed for robbery. When the murder became known Wesley Johnson was arrested. An ax was found hidden in a straw stack and identified as the murder weapon. Wesley Johnson was hung in the Henry County jail on May 29, 1884. On the day of the hanging a large crowd gathered on the streets in front of the jail. The ax used in the murder of Mr. & Mrs. Williams can be viewed at the Bloomfield House Museum.

Pictured above: Admission ticket to witness the hanging.

Henry County Mystery #11

How long was the iron bridge out of service when the concfrete arch bridge was build in 1930?

Before beginning construction of the concrete bridge in Napoleon in 1930, the old iron bridge was moved downstream and was out of service for one week only. To provide a convenient crossing during construction of the concrete bridge, temporary piers were construction and tracks were made to move the three sections of the iron bridge. The three 206-foot spans of the iron bridge were moved 150 feet downstream, to the east side of Vocke’s Mill (current site of Snyder Chevrolet parking lot) and opened on Front Street. This was accomplished in a week’s time. The concrete bridge was opened to traffic on May 7, 1930. The Maumee River Bridge at Napoleon, Ohio was dedicated on September 18, 1930.

Henry County Mystery #12

In 1860 to 1870 there were two towns named Napoleon in Ohio. Where was the other Napoleon located?

In the 1860’s to 1870’s there were two Napoleons in Ohio. One was located here in Henry County and the other Napoleon was located in Holmes County. In the middle of June in 1863 some local farmers in Holmes County resisted the draft for the Civil War. They took up arms and established themselves in a stone house near the Village of Napoleon in Holmes County. Troops were sent from Columbus and shots were exchanged and the resistance “fizzled out”. To the locals in Holmes County this stone house became known as “Fort Fizzle”. Today this Napoleon is known as Glenmont, Ohio in Holmes County.

Henry County Mystery #13

How long were the recruits of the Civil War of the 68th OVI stationed at Camp Latty here in Napoleon?

Camp Latty was located at the corners of Riverview and Glenwood Avenues in Napoleon,
Ohio. This camp included Glenwood Cemetery. From October to December 1861 the
68th Regiment was organized. On this location the recruits drilled and learned the basics of military life. On January 21, 1862 the recruits moved to Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. The 68th Regiment then took part in the Battles of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Siege of Corinth, Battles of Hatchie’s Bridge, Port Gibson, Raymon, Champion Hill, Siege of Vicksburg, Meridian Campaign, Atlanta Campaign, Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Battle of Atlanta, Battle of Jonesboro, Sherman’s March to the Sea, Carolina’s Campaign, Battle of Bentonville, Surrender of Johnston’s Army, and the Grand Review in Washington DC. The 68th Regiment was in every Confederate State with the exception of Florida and Texas.

Henry County Mystery #14

The 68th Regiment was in how many of the Confederate States?

The 68th Regiment was in every Confederate State except Texas and Florida.

On Friday, October 7th, 2011 the students in the 5th grade from the Henry County Schools experienced a Camp Latty 68th Volunteer Enlistment Event at Ritter Park In Napoleon. The students used mock riffles and learned about rifle handling during Civil War times.

Marker DedicationOn Saturday October 8, 2011 at 1:00 pm the dedication of the Civii War Camp Latty marker took place. The program featured a color guard from the Malinta American Legion Post 4O0, Napoleon American Legion Post 300, and New Bavaria Amvets Post 599. The members of the Napoleon High School Choir sang The National Anthem, and God Bless America. Rev. Lee Genter offered the opening prayer and also sang Taps at the end of the ceremony. Glenn Miller, president of Napo1eon City Council accepted the Civil War Marker for the City of Napoleon. Rose Wiemken, president of the Henry County Historical Society, was the director and co-ordinator of the Event. Speakers for the Historical Society were Ed Peper and Russ Patterson. Steve Hageman spoke for the Civil War Reenactors. The Napoleon American Legion Post 300 gave a gun salute. Tom Jenny, Historical Society trustee, played Taps. The marker was unveiled by Russ Patterson, local historian.

Henry County Mystery #15

When was Napoleon’s first Boy Scout troop formed

Napoleon’s first Boy Scout troop was formed in 1915 by Judge J. M. Rieger. The troop had 32 members. Their first camp was held in King’s Grove on Turkeyfoot Creek. The scouts used tents from the Co. F of the Ohio National Guard. Some of the troops were Emmett Mann, Pete Reichert, Tufty Johnson, Judy (Julian) Harrison, Clyde Clyborn, Joe Kelley, Frank Travis, Can Windnaugle, Paul Rothenberger, and others. Dr. Judy Harrison’s dad – Dr. Charley Harrison visited the camp site frequently during the week and looked after the health of the scouts. Another well liked fellow by the scouts was Dan Heckler who would drive down with a freezer full of ice cream for the boys. Their cook was Okee Babcock, and Fred Sattler was their scout leader at the campout.

P.O. Box 443, Napoleon, OH 43545

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