Some places seem to be destined to be centers of human activity. Perhaps it is not all that hard to see why. In the case of central Ohio, we find towns and villages springing up on sites once occupied by the prehistoric Mound Builders. These same places were later inhabited by people from the historic Indian tribes –the Delaware, the Wyandot and the Shawnee to name just a few.
People arrived from the East in the years after the American Revolution, found these places of earlier settlement and liked them as well. The land was usually of good quality and was usually high enough to avoid flooding from nearby streams.
However, in the case of Plain Township in general and New Albany in particular, settlement took a little longer than was the case in other parts of central Ohio.
In 1795, shortly after the signing of the historic Treaty of Greenville, a young surveyor named Lucas Sullivant led a survey party to the lands near the junction of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. West of the Scioto lay the Virginia Military District consisting of land set aside for Virginia’s veterans of the Revolution and others who wished to buy land. Sullivant was limited to the west side of the River. Undeterred he established Franklinton – the first permanent settlement north of Chillicothe in 1797.
It would be quite a while before there would be many others.
While Franklin County was formed in 1803, it would not be until 1810 that Plain Township was created. The original township was quite large and included much of what is now Mifflin and Jefferson Townships. It would not be until 1816 that the township would generally assume its current form.
And by that time – almost 20 years after Lucas Sullivant had laid out Franklinton – there was still no village of any substance in the area. This is not to say that there were no people living here. There just were not that many of them.
A man named Joseph Scott is reputed to have been the first settler from the newly formed United States to settle in Plain Township. He soon was followed by several others. But as late as 1816, there are still only a small number of people in the entire five mile by five mile township.
There are several reasons why this was the case. People generally followed the larger rivers north from the Ohio River into the heart of Ohio. It was along these rivers – the Muskingum, the Scioto and the Miami that the first settlements were made. Just as settlers began to travel farther inland along smaller streams like the Big Walnut, Rocky Fork and Blacklick creeks, the War of 1812 broke out. Fearful for their safety, many people did not venture inland until the war was over.
When they did, they found a wonderful wooded country with topsoil three, four and even five feet deep. They found clear streams and ample game. And they found people more than willing to sell them land. To meet the needs of Revolutionary
War veterans who were entitled to 100 acres of land, much of the southeast quarter of the township was surveyed in 100-acre plots. Most of the northern half of the township was surveyed in 640-acre plots one mile on a side. The southwest corner was a different story altogether.
A man of considerable significance and influence named Dudley Woodbridge had acquired 4,000 acres in the southwest quarter of the township in 1800. In 1802, he sold the land to one John Huffman at a price of one gallon of liquor per acre.
Payment would be made with the delivery of 4,000 gallons of liquor to Woodbridge. Mr. Huffman sold some of the land, leased some of the rest and eventually divided the remainder among his children in 1821. He also presumably became a major distiller of alcohol in order meet his obligations to Dudley Woodbridge.
As the population grew, churches were formed and rough roads began to be built along the trails previously used by Native Americans. But it was hard to bring a town into being. In 1826, Lorin Hills and Lester Humphrey laid out a town near what is now New Albany and called it Lafayetteville. No one came to the place and the town was never built. In 1835, a man named Francis Carter tried again and called his town Mount Pleasant. Again, no one came and the town failed.
Finally in May, 1837, Noble Landon and William Yantis laid out the town of New Albany. The men were not partners. Each owned a large piece of land near the other and each sold their own lots. This time the experiment worked and the town survived.
I suppose this is a classic example of “Keep at it long enough and it will happen.”
Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.