Tucked up in the northeast corner of Delaware County, Oxford Township is mostly rural and home to the village of Ashley. Ashley sits way up in the northeast corner of the township, surrounded by Morrow County. This location may seem remote, but it’s easily accessible on U.S. Rt. 42 or S.R. 229. The one stoplight in this town happens to be right at that intersection.
In 1810 Ezra and Comfort Olds built
a log cabin in the northwest part of the township. William Sharp of Virginia was also one of the first settlers, as well as Henry Foust. Adin Winsor arrived and built what would be the first brick house in the township. This small settlement became known as Winsor Corners. A Methodist Episcopal church and a post office were also located here. The Winsor Cemetery is just about all that remains, and many of these earliest settlers and their families are buried there.
Meanwhile on the southeastern side of the township near Alum Creek, another settlement was shaping up around 1810 as well. Settlers here included Andrew Murphy, James McWilliams, Hugh Watters, Henry Riley and Henry Wolf. Robert Brown settled in what is now downtown Ashley in 1817. Adam Shoemaker and his large family came in 1819.
In 1815 Oxford was established as a separate township, breaking off from Marlborough. The township lines changed a few times as township lines did, and the current boundaries have held since Morrow County was established the late 1840s.
It was swampy in Oxford Township. Several accounts note schools called “Swamp Angel” and “Mudtown”. Another source said that in the winter, early settlers skated on ice all the way from Ashley to Delaware through the south woods or “Pipe Town” over frozen swamp lands. But growth continued and by mid-century, the makings of vibrant village were underway.
On June 15, 1849, county surveyor Charles Neil platted the town of Oxford, which was later changed to Ashley. Some accounts show that L. W. Ashley and J. C. Avery subdivided their property to create the original village plat. Others show L. W. Ashley as just a popular surveyor of the time. The village was incorporated in 1855.
In 1850 the “Big Four” railroad was built through the township but there were some issues with the engines sinking and it took awhile to solidify the railroad bed. The Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and St. Louis railway drove a golden spike into the ground and the trains were up and running. Ashley became a big shipping point for grain and livestock, but one train that stood out as it traveled through Ashley was the April 1865 funeral train for President Abraham Lincoln.
Rapid growth ensued and by 1880 there were about 800 people in the township. Ashley was thriving with a hotel, several stores, warehouses, saloons, churches, mills, an opera house and other businesses. Houses were going up fast and the sidewalks were made of planks of wood. Ashley had its own newspaper for several years. There was even a well known musical group called “The Dominant Band”.
The Oxford Social Club was a private club for gentlemen established in 1887. Even horses had a fancy place to stay when J. A. McCurdy’s stables, also known as “Hotel D’Hoss,” went into business. A few years later, the General Business Review described Ashley as a “thoroughly awake business town”. The streets were paved in 1893.
During the height of the spiritualism movement (1840-1920), Ashley became home to Woolley Park. Still listed as an active 121 year-old non-profit organization, it was founded in the late 1890’s as a camp association and retreat center. At one time it was quite busy with an auditorium, dining hall, cottages and camp sites. It is no longer a vacation destination for spiritualists, but it is still owned by the organization. Founding members were S. J. Woolley, Solomon Rosevelt and Thomas Seeds.
After a few years of teaching classes at home and in the township hall, Rev. Margaret Fling with Rev. Richard Heimlich chartered The White Lily Chapel in 1952 through the National Spiritualist Association. In 1963 they became an independent church. White Lily Chapel has become known for their Wednesday night dinners ($4.00!) and message service, but current pastor Cindy Berkshire notes that the Wednesday night is just one part of what White Lily has to offer. Many pastors connected to White Lily are related, as psychic gifts seems to run in families. An interesting example is Richard Ireland, Rev. Fling’s son, a well known psychic to the stars.
Four private homes were put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It is believed that they were all built by Toddy Porterfield in the Eastlake style of architecture. Porterfield was known for his craftsmanship. You might notice them on Franklin and High Streets as you cruise through the village. There are many other beautiful historic properties in Ashley that are eligible to be listed on the NRHP, but that is up to individual property owners to pursue.
The Rosevelts were another big family who made their mark on Oxford Township. New Yorker Solomon Rosevelt was a shipbuilder who built the first two steamers to cross the Atlantic Ocean. He sold the shipyard and came to Ashley to settle on 500 acres at “Rosevelt Hall.” More on early residents can be found here.
The post office is still operating in the George W. Rosevelt building where it has been for many, many years. The building was finished in 1885. Rosevelt was in the business of making and selling “secret order regalia and lodge paraphernalia.”
These days if you want to buy Buckeye hat, you can find one in about a million places. But back in the 1800s, a Buckeye hat had nothing to do with OSU. Barton Whipple discovered how to make a hat out of wood shavings, and found the wood from the Buckeye tree to be the most conducive to the braiding and weaving process. Many people in Ashley were involved in this hat making business from about 1832-1900. Around 1870 they sold for about $2 a dozen. Kenneth Lea even wrote a master’s thesis about the Buckeye Hat.
When the Buckeye Valley School District was established in 1963, the former “Elm Valley” High School which was built in 1917 became an elementary school. Now known as Buckeye Valley East, the school grounds contain park areas and recycling bins that are used by the whole community. There is also a local food pantry here.
An interesting tidbit… where did the “Barons” come from for Buckeye Valley’s mascot? It actually stands for Bellpoint, Ashley, Radnor, Ostrander, Norton, and Scioto. Kilbourne was added in 1971, but they didn’t see the need to change the name to Barkons.
The other historic schoolhouse in Ashley has for a long time been the headquarters of the R. B. Powers Company. In business for over 100 years, the company has been a stable and consistent presence in the village. R. B. Powers was the town cobbler, and in addition to normal cobbler duties, he started making show ribbons for fairs. As Ashley was home to its own fair from 1912 to 1949, initially the ribbons were for local use. Once Ashley kicked off the first junior fair in the country in 1924, R. B. Powers began expanding as the junior fair movement grew. The company now does business nationally and internationally. Ed Powers tells the history of the company in this YouTube video.
On land that once was part of the fairgrounds, Ashley Villa Apartments provides senior housing, and is now connected with the Delaware Council for Older Adults. A new dining center opened last fall to help serve seniors in northern Delaware County.
Rotary Products, Inc. is also another longstanding Ashley business. They have been in town for over 30 years now and manufacture and distribute loading dock and sliding door equipment.
Genevieve Cole wrote a thorough history of Ashley as part of the bicentennial project in 1976. It is available through the Delaware County Historical Society. The Delaware County Genealogical Society also provides a lot of resources, and I want to thank Crystal Kohler for her assistance. She is one of many volunteers available at the county library in the local history room. More old pictures and Ashley memories can be found here and here.
The Oxford Township comprehensive plan was drawn up in 2006. The vision statement reflects a desire to “retain our rural character” along with protecting and conserving natural resources. At the same time they expressed interest in economic development and preparing infrastructure for such growth. A SWOTs analysis was done that highlighted residents’ perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The rural location and proximity to state and local parks was a noted strength. One of the weaknesses listed was the lack of a convenience store, and the recent addition of Dollar General has filled that need.
Two big events each year are the annual Ashley Corn Show, usually in August, and for the past four years, Christmas in Ashley. The Ashley Community Pool and Park (also known as Newman Park and Reservoir) is on the east side of town on S.R. 229. ODNR helps maintain the reservoir but the property is owned by the village. Located on Shoemaker Road, the township offices, park and community center are centrally located to serve the whole area. The property has a walking path, playground, picnic shelter, ball fields, and basketball courts. It’s a fairly new park and is worth checking out.
Since 1989, Oxford Township has been home to Recreation Unlimited. Founded in 1958, this non-profit organization continues to provide recreation, education and athletic activities for individuals with disabilities. One of their biggest friends was the legendary Jimmy Crum. Their huge 195 acre campus is also available to outside groups for retreats and other programs.
The Wornstaff Memorial Public Library is not your run of the mill library. For many years, it has been a steady center of activity for the village of Ashley. Although it is a wonderful library, it also operates as a source of communication and collaboration with other businesses and organizations in the community. In March, they showed the move “Frozen” for free. The library also maintains a blog for Ashley that lists upcoming events, such as a trout fishing tournament (April 26) and Easter egg hunt (April 19).
If you are tooling around the area, you should check out 3 Old Hens & a Rooster Mercantile. Rocky’s Italian Ice has an Ashley location connected to Gibeyes Pizza and Pub which is also known for live music.
Today Ashley is home to a mix of old families with rich history, and new families looking for a nice place to raise kids. While the train no longer stops here, and the days of the Oxford Social Club and the Hotel D’Hoss are long gone, this small town still has plenty to offer.