As it were

Early days in Merion Village neighborhoods

By ED LENTZ
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South of downtown Columbus is a thriving community of neighborhoods called Merion Village. Merion Village is often assumed, with a little misspelling, to be associated with Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of Revolutionary War fame. It isn't.

In reality, the Merions of Merion Village have their own interesting story to tell.

Frontier Franklinton had been established in 1797 on the west banks at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. It had grown so slowly at first that its founder, Lucas Sullivant, had offered free lots to early settlers on Gift Street. The home of one of the early settlers, David Deardurff, has been preserved.

A few doors down from the Deardurffs on the other side of the street, a man named Isaiah Voris opened a tavern. His wife helped promote one of the classic early settlement stories in the area. Sally Wait had come to central Ohio in 1805 with her father Jenks Wait of Johnstown, N.Y., and lived on land about a mile south of Franklinton near an old salt lick. Several years later William Merion arrived in the village and stayed at the Voris tavern. While staying at the tavern he noticed Sally Wait walking home from Franklinton one day. He approached her with a bridle in hand and said he was looking for his horse which had wandered away. Knowing horses drifted toward the salt lick, the two walked about a mile together along the river. They did not find the horse.

A short time later, Mrs. Voris complimented Sally on her choice of attractive men. Sally noted that they were only looking for a horse. Mrs. Voris pointed out that Stewart's horse was in the barn during that whole time. Over the next several months, Sally Wait and William Stewart saw each other many times. On Feb. 14, 1809, they were married.

After living in Franklinton for a brief time, they moved across the river and south to a large tract of land owned by William, his brother Nathaniel and his sister Millie Morrill. The 1,800-acre parcel was part of the Refugee Tract that ran from what is now Refugee Road on the south to Fifth Avenue on the north. It had been set aside for refugees from Nova Scotia who had lost their property because of their loyalty to the cause of the American Revolution.

William Merion staked out his portion of the tract and built a log house covered with clapboards at what is now the corner of High Street and Moler Avenue. The house was rather large for that time period with a movable partition made of boards that could be removed for large parties or other gatherings.

According to one later account, living near the edge of a large forest was quite pleasant. "Sugar maple trees furnished them their sugar. Game was plentiful. Wild grapes, plums and pawpaws were everywhere. One time a dog chased a wild turkey into the house and when it was captured it was found to weigh twenty pounds."

William served briefly in the War of 1812 and then returned home where he continued to clear his property and develop it as farmland. In 1817, the family built a larger frame house. With increased prosperity, they began planning for an even better house. In 1819, the brick home began to be built. Windows with panes 10 inches by 12 inches -- quite large for that period -- were put in place. The woodwork and the mantle in the parlor were painted pale blue and highlighted by pale white painted roses. Bricks in fireplace were painted red.

In addition to their own growing family of six children, William and Sally Merion gave homeless children a place to live as well. In a period when modern social agencies did not exist, children who had lost their parents to disease or misfortune often had no place to go. No child was ever turned away from the Merion farm.

One of Sally Merion's daughters, Emily Stewart, later described what life was like on the farm. "Everyone who worked on the farm at that time expected to be boarded and lodged. The school teacher boarded around. There were no cooking stoves, sewing knitting or washing machines and even the plain washboard was not used here until about 1830. ... Every garment was made from the raw material. The wool of a hundred sheep was brought in at shearing time and Sally Merion had it washed, picked, carded, spun, scoured, dried, woven and made into flannel, jeans, linsey, blankets, coverlets and stocking yarn. Then it was made into clothing. ...The milk of fifteen cows was brought in twice a day to be made into butter and cheese."

"The long winter evenings were occupied with sewing, knitting or spinning on the little wheel. ... The mail came once a month in early times and the postage, which was not prepaid, was twenty-five cents for each letter."

William Merion died in 1837. Sally Merion survived him by almost twenty years until her death in 1856. It was a busy life but a good one.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.

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