Beginning as early as the 1750s, people had begun migrating from the 13 English colonies in eastern America into the vast wilderness north and west of the Ohio River. In fact French and English explorers, traders and fur trappers had lived there even longer. But there were not all that many of them and the Native American communities of Ohio increasingly resisted the rising tide of colonial migration.
That tide became a flood in the years after the American Revolution. Having little money but a lot of land, the government of the United States gave away large tracts to its veterans and sold land to anyone with the wherewithal to buy it. And again, as in the past, the opinion of Native Americans about all of this was not considered all that much. And again Native America fought back.
Much of that resistance ended with the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and most of the southern two-thirds of what is now Ohio was opened to settlement. In less than eight years, more than 50,000 people had arrived and Ohio became a state. There were not all that many people living in central Ohio in 1803. Frontier Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers was the largest settlement.
Soon it would not be alone. At the place where Zane’s Trace crossed the Hocking River, Lancaster was founded in 1808 and emerged as the county seat of a newly formed Fairfield County. From the settlements like Lancaster on the major rivers, settlers set forth into the vast forests of central Ohio. Punctuating the woodlands were occasional large patches of prairie land where forest fires, floods or other natural blights had cleared the woodlands.
One of these areas presented such a blaze of color with wildflowers stretching away to the horizon that early arrivals near the headwaters of the Blacklick, Sycamore and Walnut Creeks called the place Violet Township. The name stuck.
Into Violet Township in what was then Fairfield County in 1806 came a man named Abraham Pickering. Pickering had been born on July 8, 1776 – four days after the announcement of the Declaration of Independence. He was therefore a bit young to fight in the Revolution. But he came of age when the land the Revolution won was being divided. Arriving in Violet Township, Pickering was accompanied by his wife Ann and two young children, James and Elizabeth. Shortly thereafter, Pickering made the acquaintance of one George Kirke, reputedly the first white man to settle in the area.
Buying land from Kirke and several others, Pickering decided to lay out a town in 1815. Humility not being his strong suit, he named the village Pickerington. Life was hard in those early days. A man named Mordechai Fishbauch settled about three miles east of Pickerington. He later remembered what life was like.
“When we first settled down, we were in the midst of wild woods in every direction. We cleared off the ground and put up little cabins, and then began the work of clearing some land for cornfields. To be able to find our way through the settlement from one point to another, we made blazes on the trees by peeling or hewing back the bark on both sides, and these blazes are followed until a beaten track is formed.”
“Upon our first settlement, the wolves howled around us day and night. There were also panthers, bears and wildcats in the woods. Wild turkeys were in vast flocks in every section of the country and flocks of them would come up to the rear of the cabin and look through the little window. I have shot them through that window. We could have wild turkey meat whenever we wanted it. ...
“Almost every place had a peach orchard, more or less. The natural seeding peach was all that was known at that early day. The crop seldom failed and there were peaches in great abundance in almost every year. Large quantities of them were hauled to the still house and converted to peach brandy.”
“The elections were then, and ever since, held in Pickerington. In the War of 1812, a great many went as soldiers. A good many of them did not live to get home.”
“I have lived to see Violet Township become wealthy, populous and well-cultured. I was thirteen years old when I landed in Violet Township, and have lived in the same place sixty-five years.”
The thriving village of several hundred grew quite slowly through most of the early and mid-twentieth century. But then the world changed. The economic success of central Ohio led to the rapid growth of Columbus and eventually Pickerington and even Lancaster found themselves to be something of suburban “Edge Cities” complementing the massive growth of the city at the center of the state.
Through all of this, the town has kept its heart and its humor. It is in many ways the town it has always been – warm, friendly and a place of which Abraham Pickering would be proud – as well he should be.
Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.