Why This Location?

Early Monroe County settlements at Clarington, Sardis, and Baresville (Hannibal) on the Ohio River were clearly dictated by water transportation. However, with few exceptions, such as Cameron and Calais, most county villages were located on high ground. These sites, no doubt, were dictated by roads rather than creeks and rivers. From their first meeting on June 15, 1815 the county commissioners dealt with the issue of roads:
p(quotation). June 15, 1815: The Commissioners have appointed Nathan Holister, John Palmer and George Steed viewers to view the ground for a road beginning at the mouth of Sunfish Creek and running to Woodsfield [FN 1] .

In their meeting on September 15, 1815 the Commissioners indicate that “the road beginning at the mouth of Sunfish Creek and ending at the town of Woodsfield to be of public and general utility and record the same a public highway” and they “issued orders to the supervisors, Elias Conger and Joseph Blair, to open the road beginning at the mouth of Sunfish Creek and ending at the town of Woodsfield.” One cannot help but wonder what kind of road could be built through eighteen miles of heavily forested hills of southern Monroe County in just four months. Eric Sloan who, in the 1950s, wrote several nostalgic but well-documented and very well illustrated accounts of life in the nineteenth century, provides road descriptions that could easily apply to Monroe County:
p(quotation). Even as late as 1870 many roads […] were only clearings through the forest, with few level stretches and often with stumps left in the middle […] In that year the Governor of Connecticut wrote, "What we complain of under the present conditions of affairs is that all four wheels of our wagons are often running on different grades. This kind of road will throw a child out of its mother’s arms. We let our road-makers shake us enough to the mile to furnish assault and battery cases for a thousand police cases [FN 2] .

Although virgin forests covered most of Monroe County in 1815 and road surveyors could have followed trails established by Indian and white hunters, probably their major challenge was designing roads that connected an increasing number of privately owned farms and mills. In the early nineteenth century, Monroe County was attracting both land speculators, whose goals were to clear land and resell at a profit, and settlers, whose goals were to establish a home. These early farmers selected land based on availability of fertile soil and a spring or other water supply. Closely following the farmers were the grist and saw mill operators, who needed a good supply of running water for power. These selection criteria were not the same as those used by the Indians and hunters whose trails were already available. Soon it became clear that a road would have to be built on virtually every ridge and valley with a connector every mile or so. As a result, there were far more miles of roads in Monroe County in the nineteenth century than there are in the early twenty-first century.

More often than not, the Commissioners were actually petitioned by private land owners to authorize roads that served their interests, as suggested in the following excerpt from the minutes of an 1834 meeting:
p(quotation). Monday, June 2, 1834 REPORTS OF ROADS READ
Commissioners met, present John Gray, William Johnston, and Wm Smith and proceeded to business.
. . . .
To the Commissioners of the County of Monroe, the undersigned petitioners humbly sheweth that a road is much wanted for a mill road and other conveniences to commence at Minor’s Mill, thence the nighest and best way up the run that can be had, to intersect the graded road at or near the corner of Holister, Clingan’s and Park’s, thence with the graded road by H. Bach’s and the most convenient point in the land lately owned by Osborn, thence to intersect the road running through Miltonsburgh at or near the house occupied by Vance Johnston**. The location and establishing said road our petitioners will ever pry,&c. June 29, 1834
|Daniel Keylor||Joseph Addis||Elijah Drum||
|Vance Johnston||Henry Baight||Samuel Yoho||
|Christpher Thomas||John Steel||John B Addis||
|Hiram Powell||Andrew Shell||Jonah Garard||
|Jabez Osborn||Christopher Steel||
|Henry J. Steel||John Canarie||
|John Holister||Philip Burkham||
|Thomas Smith||Samuel Martin||
p(quotation). Upon the foregoing petition being presented and the Commissioners being satisfied that lawful notice had been given that such petition would be presented and said Henry Baight entering into bond with approved security for the payment of all costs and expenses arising from the view and survey of said road, provided that upon final hearing said road be not established. The commissioners appointed Stephen Sloan, Samuel Egger? and Peter Yoho, viewers, with Daniel Gray Surveyor, to meet on the 17th of present month to view, survey and report their proceedings on the same according at law.

  • Until about 1900, the name of the town is fairly consistently spelled “Miltonsburgh.”
    • Vance Johnson does not appear on the tax records as a Miltonsburg property owner until about 1850 when he owned Lot 18; however, Daniel Johnson, who may have been a relative, owned Lot 12 as early as 1835. This instruction may have established the location of the road listed as the “Cross Road,” which was located between Lots 15 and 16 in the original plan of Miltonsburg.

This account not only gives insights into the administrative process of road building but it also tells us that by 1834 there was a road that led to Miltonsburgh. Since the town was laid out in 1833, it is likely that the road preceded the town. In any case, by the mid-1830s the increasing number of operating farms was beginning to generate a demand for support services such as merchants, blacksmiths, tobacco packing houses, cobblers, harness makers, wagon makers, carpenters, cabinet makers, physicians, and even brewers. Persons providing these services needed a location within a reasonable horseback or wagon ride from their clientele and even a small lot would serve their own needs. As result, by 1845 most farmers were no more than five miles from one of the nineteen villages in Monroe County; sixteen of which were founded between 1833 and 1845; only Woodsfield (1812), Clarington (1822) and Beallsville (1814) were founded earlier.

There are several precedents for the type of town that might have emerged during the first thirty years of Monroe County. For example, many of the German and French settlers in Monroe County were familiar with villages of clustered house-barns surrounded by fields reached by radial paths. These farmers lived, shopped, and socialized in town and went to their fields to work, whereas in Monroe County, the farmers lived and worked on their farms and went to the town to shop and socialize. I once asked my grandfather, George Landefeld, why the large contingent of Germans who settled in Monroe County in the mid 1800s, did not consider a farm-town pattern like the one they knew in Obergude, his ancestral town near the Fulda River in Hesse. At the time, I found his answer disappointingly unembellished-but characteristic of his philosophy of accepting things as they are. He simply said, “that is not the way it is done here.”

After a few years of thinking about it, I began to understand his reply. Obergude was founded about 1000 AD in a feudal world where small, relatively independent states were often on unfriendly terms with each other and on occasions threatened as a group from outsiders. These conditions led to building farm houses close together for mutual protection, often within a defensive wall. Over the years the farmland beyond the village changed ownership on a family-by-family basis until, by the time many of the Miltonsburg founders left Germany, it was common for one family to have fields in several different locations scattered around the village.

Despite the inefficiencies and frustrations of this German system, new immigrants could have continued this practice as they did with many other traditions; however, a decision of the American Continental Congress made this medieval land ownership pattern almost impossible to duplicate in Monroe County. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established a policy for systematic settlement of the Northwest Territory and Monroe County was within the very first survey consisting of a grid of six-square-mile townships each divided into 36 one-square mile sections. Within this grid it was easy to layout and purchase a section of 640 acres; a quarter section of 160 acres; and smaller parcels of 80 and 40 acres. It was also easy to select a site of 10 or more acres, lay out a small town, and sell lots; but it was not easy to relate the town to the ownership of the surrounding land.

My grandfather described life in his birth town in Germany so accurately that, when I visited it a few years later, I recognized it from my conversations with him. Yet he never looked back. I never heard him express one word of regret in leaving his ancestral country and home. While the American pattern of land ownership has been criticized as being unimaginative and dull; it can be argued that it represented-and continues to represent-principles on which America was founded. It reflects equal and unlimited opportunities as well as freedom of movement. I think that is what my grandfather understood when he said, “that is the way it is done here.”

So, “why this location?” We can only speculate, but I assume that the ridge, which is still the main street (SR 145) of Miltonsburg was part of the road that was in place before 1833 and that the town site was within relatively short riding and reasonable walking distance of enough farms to convince a speculator that there would be a market for at least the twenty lots in David Pierson’s original plan. This speculation seems to be confirmed by the fact that by 1835 these lots were owned by fourteen different individuals and David Pierson had built a substantial house and probably other buildings on Lot 3.

The following account from an 1885 edition of The Spirit of Democracy presents a first-hand memory of an early settler of Miltonsburg.
p(newspaperarticle). Editor Spirit: As you requested the old pioneer men who came to Monroe county, fifty years ago and over, to write out their experience as pioneers, I will attempt to give your readers a short sketch of my early life in old Monroe.
It was in the year of 1829 that I, with my parents, three brothers and one sister bid adieu to our native state, New Jersey. I was then some past seven years old. Our journey was made in an old-fashioned Switzer one-horse wagon, and from this you may conclude that travel then was not as rapid as that at the present time. By the time we reached the state of Ohio we had been travelling four weeks. Between Moundsville and Powhatan on the West Virginia side our wagon stuck in the mud and my father kept guard over the wagon for a whole night. The next morning we received assistance of a yoke of oxen and finally arrived in Malaga township where we made our home for several months with my uncle, John Egger, who resided 1 1/4 miles south of the present site of Miltonsburg, (which was then still a wilderness) on the farm now owned by F. J. Snyder. I remember when my uncle said to my father: “Jacob, we will now have a store for Mr. Pierson of Woodsfield intends to lay out a town and build a store room.” It was done about the year 1836.

Who Lived Here?

While the memories of older residents provided antidotal information about people who lived in Miltonsburg as early as the beginning of the 1900s, the best and most consistent sources are the tax and census records. By 1835, Lot 3 had a tax value of $200 and Lot 9 a value of $76 while the value of the rest of the lots varied from six to fifteen dollars. The respective owners, David Pearson and Andreas Shell, may have been the first residents of Miltonsburg although other documents suggest that Pierson may have built this house for sale and never lived in it himself.

Because these lot values are so low compared to today’s standards, it is easy to overlook the possibility that a $15 versus an $8 lot value may indicate that an owner had built a small, temporary (probably log) house with the intention of replacing it with a frame structure in a few years. The log houses extant in Miltonsburg in the 1930s (Lots 11, 19, 21, 31, and 44) may have originally been temporary structures that were remodeled by adding rooms and finishing an attic space to serve the needs of later owners. The log houses on Lots 31 and 44 still exist in 2006. The one owned by Alex Hardesty, on Lot 21, was destroyed by fire sometime around 1960.

Within a decade, additions by Christian Weineke and Jacob Greiner raised the total number of lots to 44. (Later, Lot 11 of the Weneke Addtion was subdivided by Christian Yockey into three lots [29, 30, 31] and three lots were added [38, 45, 46] to make the total of 46.) In 1846, the tax values suggested that four of these lots had been developed with significant structures, sixteen probably had more modest structures, and the rest were undeveloped. Because the lots in these additions were given new numbers starting with one, it is sometimes difficult to determine, for instance, if “Lot 1” refers to the original layout or to one of the two additions. The confusion was even greater because Lot 11 of the Weineke Addtion was later subdivided into lots 1, 2, and 3 and the records do not always clearly distinguish between and in lot and an out lot. The problem was essentially solved in 1888 when all lots were renumbered as they appear in the records today. Apparently Lot 38 was plotted when the lots were renumbered in 1888 and about 1900 Lots 45 and 46 were the last to be added.

By the 1860s, most of the residents were also property owners who were merchants and craftsmen serving their agricultural community. They and their counterparts in other Monroe County towns were the municipal and county leaders who brought vitality and identity to their villages for the next half century. By the late 1920s, however, improved transportation and communication technology was beginning to make these villages obsolete. Merchants in Miltonsburg who lobbied for better roads saw their former customers use these same roads to drive their private motor cars right through Miltonsburg to the county seat of Woodsfield where more and better services were available. Actually vitality of the town probably began to wane even earlier as the first merchants and craftsmen followed the westward movement seeking fresh opportunities in newly settled parts of the Midwest and West. Although it was probably not noticed by those living in Miltonsburg, the village probably reached its high point in the mid 1880s.

While the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II delayed the inevitable, by 1950 towns such as Miltonsburg were at a watershed. Throughout the nation, the euphoria that accompanied the end of the war and the near-worship of an ever-advancing technology led to a universal attitude of disregard of the old and replacing it with the new. This is a time when urban renewal programs wiped out countless historic urban neighborhoods and replaced them with modern solutions that often failed to provide the warmth and sense of community that human beings have always needed.

Small towns such as Miltonsburg were caught up in this movement. One-story ranch houses were the standards of success. No one wanted to live in an old house. As a result, the houses and buildings of these small villages, which were now about 100 years old, often with no indoor plumbing and electricity, and suffering from years of deferred maintenance, were razed, remodeled out of existence, or purchased by modest-income families for whom a ranch house had become a major criterion of success.

These villages came of age at an awkward time. If they had survived until the 1960s more of them may have become part of a preservation movement that recognized their historic value, as well as their potential contribution to a life-style that was being reinvented in our society.

By the early twenty-first century most of the original buildings had been razed and nineteenth-century residents would probably recognize only four or five buildings. Nevertheless, our brief exploration shows that thousands of people have connections to this tiny village which never had more that 150 residents at any point in its history.

Judith A. and Paul E. Young, Jr.
June 2007
1: Carolyn Zogg Wolf, Monroe County Ohio: The First Twenty Years. Commissioners’ Journal 1915-1835 . Woodsfield, Ohio: Monroe County Historical Society, 1986. 2. [Back to text]
2: Eric Sloan. Our Vanishing Landscape . New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1955. 58. [Back to text]