As it were
College founder reveled in swagger
In 1850, there were 1,303 people living in Blendon Township in the northeast part of Franklin County.
The township originally was separated from Sharon Township on March 6, 1815, and given the name of Harrison Township in honor of Gen. William Henry Harrison. Harrison had played no small part in the recently concluded War of 1812 and was quite popular in Ohio.
However, naming the township for the good general proved to be confusing. There had been another Harrison Township in Franklin County when the county was brought into being in 1803. As one account in 1857 put it, the original Harrison Township was "chiefly stricken from Franklin County in the formation of Pickaway County, in 1810, and the remaining part of it included in the townships of Hamilton and Madison. " Nevertheless, many people in the southern part of the county still remembered with fondness the original name of their township.
In 1825, the Franklin County commissioners acceded to requests from their constituents and changed the name of Harrison Township to Blendon Township. Despite this rather circuitous beginning, the township was populated relatively quickly with a large number of people -- largely from New England. Edward Phelps and Isaac Griswold arrived from Windsor, Conn., in 1806. Phelps was reputed to have "cut the first tree ever felled by a white man in the township."
Since white men had been moving through central Ohio for about 150 years before his arrival, it may be assumed that this claim dealt with the tree-removal prowess of permanent settlers.
Phelps and Griswold were important people in the early history of this township. But in short order, another one of those people who proved to be just a bit larger than life arrived as well.
Capt. Timothy Lee had fought in the War of 1812 and came to Blendon Township in 1807. He settled on a piece of land situated on both sides of Big Walnut Creek and quickly had a simple mill in operation.
Like many other frontier bachelors, Lee decided in due course that it might be nice to have a wife. In Rhoda Taylor, he found her.
John and Pamela Taylor had arrived in Ohio with Rhoda and their eight other children in 1812. John had fought in the Revolution with his six brothers, two of whom died in the prison hulks in a place called Wallabout Bay. The Taylors settled in Newark, Ohio, but the parents soon died and the children were divided among relatives.
Rhoda ended up with a family named Hough in Genoa Township in Delaware County. It was there that Lee found her and won her affections.
Lee brought his bride to his well-built frame house along Big Walnut Creek. As his family grew, he soon became known as Squire Timothy Lee. Humility was not his strong suit. He claimed to his friends that "he could work harder, shoot straighter, swim deeper water and drink more whisky than anyone else in the township."
He was later remembered as a man who was probably able to do all of those things -- especially the part about the whisky -- quite well.
Apparently, Rhoda, the good wife, gloried in the good her husband did and tolerated his shortcomings. But she always hoped he might turn away from liquor and license and become more of a civil citizen. In 1829, Squire Timothy Lee joined the Presbyterian church "in answer to her prayers and a great change came over his life objective."
By 1830, the lands and enterprises of the Lees were quite prosperous. Squire Lee built a spacious new home for his wife and family along Big Walnut Creek, and one might think that the good squire might have been ready to settle into quiet enjoyment of his rural lifestyle.
But that was not who Timothy Lee was or wished to be.
In the early 1830s, a small community had developed around a school established by one Ebenezer Washburn. The school taught the classics and the community that sprang up around it -- largely on land owned by Timothy Lee -- was called Amalthea. According to one account, Amalthea was the goat that nourished Jupiter in Roman mythology.
In 1835, Timothy Lee offered 100 acres to the Presbyterian church to establish a college at Amalthea. The original school was called the Blendon Institute and got its own post office in 1841. Lee built four buildings for the new college: a dormitory, a dwelling house, a recitation hall and a church. In 1842, the school changed its name to Central College and the village soon became known by that name as well.
Rhoda Taylor Lee died April 10, 1848. She lived long enough to see her husband transformed from a rather rough frontiersman to the founder of a college. Timothy Lee survived his wife by many years and died Jan. 14, 1862. He was 76 and had transformed a frontier into a home in his lifetime.
Central College had a lot of competitors and was not able to sustain itself as a collegiate institution, but it was successful as an academy for more than 50 years. In 1892, the site was acquired by the alumni association of the Ohio School for the Deaf and became the Ohio Home for the Aged Deaf.
At least one of the old buildings is still there in Central College and still being put to good use. Timothy and Rhoda Lee would be pleased.
Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.