As it were

Settler's account of Franklinton's start

By ED LENTZ
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People have been living in central Ohio for a very long time.

One way to look at history is to view it as the memory of some of us about the lives and fortunes of the rest of us. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that those of us who were trained as historians learned to carefully evaluate the sources that tell the story of the past.

We should compare sources one with another to see which of them make the most sense and give the best explanation. And we should never ever simply accept somebody's story because it conveniently fits our idea of what the past should be. Having said all of that, understanding the past still comes down to listening to the people who lived through it.

Today we will listen once again to one of them.

In the summer of 1797, Lucas Sullivant established a village on the west bank of the Scioto River a bit to the south of its confluence with the Olentangy River. He called his town Franklinton -- after Benjamin Franklin -- and soon was inviting people to come and live there. Soon, a few people did just that. Most of them were not all that well educated. Some were not very literate at all. But some were.

One of them was Andrew McElvain. We do not hear much about the McElvains today. They have no statues of themselves in public places nor do they have streets or parks named after them. But in the early days of frontier Franklinton, they were a family of property and substance. Almost 50 years after the settlement of Franklinton, Col. Andrew McElvain wrote down his reminiscences of life in the early days of Franklin County.

"I emigrated with my father to Ohio (from Kentucky) in the spring of 1797. We remained at Chillicothe that summer. The fall or winter of 1797-98, a family by the name of Dixon, was the first white family settled at Franklinton, then called the Forks of the Scioto. That winter several others arrived there -- Armstrongs, Skidmores, Deardurfs, Dunkin, Stokes and Balentine; early in the spring, McElvains, Hunters, Stevens, Browns, Cowgills and Benjamin White. The first meal making establishment in Franklinton was erected by Samuel McElvain -- that was a hominy block -- a hole burned in a stump, with a sweep so fixed so two men could pound corn into meal; the sifter was a deer skin stretched over a hoop, with small holes made therein by a small hot iron; and that block mill supplied the first settlement of Franklin County."

"Our family helped to raise the first corn raised in the county by the whites. Next was a hand mill erected by Rogers. The first water mill was erected by Robert Ballentine, on a small stream near Hayden's factory, on the town plat of Columbus (where the Federal District Courthouse is today -- EL). There was also a small distillery erected near Ridgway's Foundry, by one White, where the first rot gut whiskey was distilled. The same Benjamin White was the first appointed sheriff of the county."

"Afterward, a man by the name of Rush, erected a mill on the Scioto, below the present dam of the Sullivant Mill. The salt used by the village was manufactured at a salt spring three or four miles below the village -- perhaps on the White farm -- and I think Deardurff was the salt maker -- but not proving profitable, it was soon abandoned."

"In the summer of 1805, the first mail contract was taken by Adam Hosac -- he being contractor and postmaster. The route then was on the west side of the Scioto. A weekly mail left Franklinton each Friday, stayed overnight at Markley's mill on Darby Creek, next day made Chillicothe, and returned to Thompson's on Deer Creek, thence home on Sunday. When the route was first established, there was no post office between Franklinton and Chillicothe, but during the winter there was one established at Westfall now in Pickaway County, afterward one at Markley's mill, about that time changed to Hall's mill."

"I was the first appointed carrier and did carry the first mail to Franklinton, and was employed in that business about one year, during the winter and spring having twice to swim Darby and Deer Creek, carrying the small mail bag on my shoulders ... I commenced carrying the mail at thirteen years old. There was not a house but William Brown's on Big Run between Franklinton and Darby, and but a cabin at Westfall and Deer Creek to Chillicothe. It was a rather lonesome route for a boy ... There was no regular mail to Worthington, but their mail matter was taken up by a young man employed as clerk in a store -- I think Mr. Mathews."

"Truly yours, A. McElvain" "West Point Grove, Logan County, Illinois, November 30, 1856"

Andrew McElvain had a long and eventful life -- but he never forgot his roots in central Ohio.

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

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