At one time Ohio was about 90% forest. That’s hard to imagine when you drive around the vast farmland in Trenton and Harlem townships today. Since being settled in the early 1800s, much of the land has been cleared for farming, which remains to be the major industry in this southeastern part of Delaware County.
Although the tree population is different now than it was back then, folks in these parts still love their trees. It would take about six people to hug this giant white oak tree on Fancher Road. Estimated to be about 300 years old, this beauty is the 7th largest white Oak in Ohio. Dubbed the “Mailman Oak”, it was a frequent lunch spot for a rural mail carrier for many years. Tree lovers interested in county tree history can read more here.
The 1914 Archaeological Atlas of Ohio lists five mounds in Harlem Township and none in Trenton. At the time pioneers settled here, Native Americans had already left the area for the most part, but left behind many artifacts, some of which were found in Duncan Run.
Mr. Duncan, the namesake for Harlem Township’s main body of water, purchased 4000 acres in 1803 but failed to make final payment. In 1807 the land was auctioned in Franklin County and went to Benajah Cook for a mere 42 cents an acre. The 1880 History of Delaware County tells the story of Cook dressing himself in rags, while hiding cash under them, so that he wouldn’t be taken seriously at the auction. His ploy worked, and while he conveyed most of the land to Moses Byxbe, he kept 500 acres. Cook and his family occupied an Indian shanty there until a cabin could be built. He is noted as the first white settler within the present township lines. He was followed by Stephen Thompson, Daniel Bennett, Jacob Fetters, Elijah and John Adams, and William Fancher to name a few.
Another early settler was Captain Benjamin M. Fairchild who came in 1808 or 1809 and then served in the War of 1812. His unit during that time also included Delaware County residents. He was noted as being a “genius” because he could master any trade. He was a millwright and mechanic by occupation, and went on to build gristmills, saw mills and quarries. He donated stone for some of the buildings at Central College.
In 1810 John and Remembrance Budd arrived with their large family. They eventually built so many cabins along Duncan Run that the area became known as Buddtown. Their son, Colonel William Budd, was the first postmaster in 1816. Buddtown was renamed Harlem Village when it was formally established in 1849 by William’s son, James, and Amos Washburn. In addition to the mills and quarries, Harlem Village had a blacksmith and tannery, as well as dealers in horses and wool. For some time the village seemed to flourish, but in 1880 there were about 50 residents and only one store.
Centerville, now Center Village, was laid out in 1848 by Edward Hartwin and Ben Roberts. Centerville had at most 150 residents by 1880 and boasted two stores, two blacksmiths, the Methodist Episcopal Church, an apothecary, a wagon-maker shop and several mechanics. During the Civil War, Mary Haycook corresponded with many of the local soldiers, including her brother George. Many of their return letters have been saved and can be found here.
Snipetown used to be located at Fancher & Green-Cook Road. There was a post office here know as the Ralph post office from 1893 to 1900, as well as a small store and a blacksmith. Today the Hanover-Snipetown cemetery remains. Other cemeteries are Fancher, Maple Grove, Center Village, Harlem (Buddtown), Cockrell/Wickizer and Hunt.
Despite its small population, this is a very active township in terms of community and heritage. They hold the Duncan’s Run bike ride every July, and Harlem Township Days every August. To help provide flags for veterans’ graves, and to repair and maintain township cemeteries, they sell historical booklets. Since about 2003, Vicki Dell Tieche has published a major book and written many smaller booklets about the history of Harlem Township. One of my favorites was the First Ladies of Harlem Township which provides biographies but also describes what pioneer life was like for women.
Harlem Township is also home of Lettuce Work, a non-profit organization that works to provide job training for young adults with autism. This greenhouse business provides produce for schools, restaurants, hospitals and grocery stores while making opportunities for these young adults to gain work experience and build their communication skills.
For fifty years now, the Curtain Players theatre company has been providing entertainment and has produced over 200 plays. Located on Harlem Road in an old church, the group is presently working on “Sylvia” which starts February 7th. The Curtain Players have won many awards and offer about six plays each season. If you get hungry before or after the play, you can check out Fracasso’s Pizza in Center Village.
Another pleasant find in Harlem Township was the Glass Rooster Home Cannery. In addition to canning classes, they also teach cooking classes. They sell a wide variety of canned goods and items, and also provide catering services. Located on South S.R. 605, they also now have an Art & Antiques Barn.
Trenton Township seems to be less active than Harlem, but has some interesting history and a promising future. When Delaware County was first established, there was a Sunbury township, which was eventually broken up and redistributed. The town of Sunbury found itself in Berkshire Township and when the dust settled in the 1830s, what was left of Sunbury Township was renamed Trenton. The main water source is Rattlesnake Creek which runs west to Big Walnut Creek. The creek came by its name honestly – pioneers found the banks overrun with rattlers.
The first settlers in Trenton Township were William Perfect and Mordecai Thomas who arrived with their families from Virginia and Kentucky in 1807. They settled near the mouth of what came to be called Perfect Creek. The Perfect School was built on family land in the late 1800s and used until 1926. Family members have done quite a bit to research their genealogy and preserve the Perfect legacy.
Although no major towns or villages exist today, the Trenton township map reflects three Condits: North Condit, Condit Station and Condit (although a road sign says South Condit). This area was first settled by the Condit brothers of New Jersey around 1832. Condit Station came into being when the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus Railroad came through in the 1880s. The railroad lasted about 100 years and was a busy center for shipping grain, livestock, timber and stone. It was located roughly along U.S. 36 and had stops in Galena, Sunbury and Condit.
South Condit had its own publishing company and newspaper called “The Condit Agitator”. The Library of Congress has even digitized a book on world rulers written in 1886 and published by the Agitator. In addition to the print shop, South Condit had a general store, a blacksmith, and was home to H. Cring & Company. Cring’s Household Balm was apparently good for everything from headaches and bunions to cholera.
The Condit Presbyterian Church was organized in Gilbert Van Dorn’s tavern in 1835 and the present structure, built in 1879, remains today. Church sessional records from 1831 have been scanned and provide an interesting glimpse into the culture of that time, including repercussions for dancing.
Van Dorn arrived from New Jersey in 1817 and by 1880 had amassed about 1000 acres of land. He operated the first tavern and hotel in the township here in 1817. Known as “Center Inn” is started in a log cabin and was added onto for eleven years. The current brick structure was built in 1829 and has five large fireplaces. Van Dorn was noted to be “a moderate sized man and prosperous, and at times he came East with horses to sell.” The post office was known as Trenton Works from 1836 to 1849, then Vans Valley from 1849 to 1899. If you are interested in owning a historic landmark, the Center Inn is now for sale.
In an 1866 atlas, Joseph A. Caldwell was known for having the only hedge farm in the state and even wrote a book about the history of hedge farming. In the same atlas, Linnwood is depicted as the residence of D. H. Peters, “breeder and dealer in thoroughbred Spanish Merino Sheep.” Remaining mostly rural, this township has participated in the Hartford Fair since 1858. The township doesn’t have a website right now, but their 2004 comprehensive plan notes their desire to remain rural while supporting both the needs of agricultural business and residential areas. Part of the plan included recommendations for parks. Bikers take note: The Delaware County Friends of the Trail is working to help complete the Ohio to Erie Trail. Recent efforts include working on the trail near Meredith State Road.
A special thanks to the Community Library in Sunbury and their digital project, Delaware County Memory, as well as the Big Walnut Area Historical Society for all the research and resources they provide! If you get the chance to visit this area, plan to see a play, try some new pizza, and visit the Glass Rooster. There’s always a good photo opportunity with the big tree and some old cemetery exploring. There may not be much out that way, but that’s what makes it special. Gas up before you go, and safe travels!