Browsing Around Berkshire Township

Glacial boulder in downtown Sunbury
Glacial boulder in the Sunbury Square

Berkshire Township is home to some big rocks.

To be more precise, two of Ohio’s largest glacial erratics are located in or near Sunbury.  One is in the town square, supporting the statue of General William Starke Rosecrans.  The other is located three miles east of Sunbury on private property – all 200 tons are right where the glaciers left it over 10,000 years ago.

As with almost all of our townships, Berkshire has Indian mounds as well.  Three Indian mounds were shown along Little Walnut Creek in the 1914 Archaeological Atlas of Ohio.  The 1880 History of Delaware County mentions an Indian camp two miles north of Berkshire Corners, which would line up with one of the mounds on the far end of Carter’s Corners Road.  One is close to Galena, and the other is near Cheshire and Domigan roads.

Township history reflects the stereotypical images of Native Americans, and several stories are relayed about their surprise visits and demands for food and goods.  There seems to be no major incidences though and very little mention of serious conflict between pioneers and Indians.

As of one the county’s first three townships, Berkshire had the most to do with the formation of Delaware as both a town and a county.  This was primarily due to the aspirations of Colonel Moses Byxbe.  History paints him in different lights – one source described him as a determined visionary.  Another depicts him as being shrewd with an “utter lack of credibility.”  Ray Buckingham’s booklet on Moses Byxbe, His Impact and Image, is a comprehensive view of a complicated man and is fully available online.

Sunbury Fishing Park, Sunset #1

Sunbury Fishing Park, Sunset #1

After the Revolutionary War, Byxbe obtained 8000 acres of land from soldiers near his home in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  He too was a revolutionary war soldier, but proof of his Colonelship is hard to come by.  Whether he earned the title in his service or whether it was a nickname is up for debate.  While he owned a tavern and hotel, he traded goods and services to these soldiers in return for their military land warrants.  He came to see the land for the first time in 1801 with his son, Moses Jr.  He went back to Massachusetts, and three years later set out for Ohio with a large caravan.

In his party was Solomon Smith, who would later become the first sheriff and postmaster in Delaware County.  He would also serve as county auditor and county treasurer.  Azariah Root accompanied the group because of his skills as a surveyor, and when the county was organized in 1808 he became the county’s first official in that capacity.  Others in the group included Orlando Baker, Witter Stewart, and Byxbe’s young nephew, Edward Potter, along with their families, 14 horses, supplies and all their earthly belongings.

After traveling by land, they went to Redstone, Pennsylvania (now Brownsville) and had a large flat boat made to carry them up the Monongahela River.  In Pittsburg they bought iron goods and then took the Ohio River to Wheeling, West Virginia.  Because the iron goods added so much weight to the boat, they devised a plan to send the horses over land and continued up river.

By the end of the summer of 1804, the caravan reconvened and they made a temporary settlement in Worthington.  They stayed for a few months but by November Byxbe had his sights set on Berkshire.  After building shelter, they cut a trail from Worthington to his land in the north.  Azariah Root platted out the main street, located at the corner of present day Galena Road and U.S. Rt. 36/S.R. 37.  With a path to follow, and big dreams, they left Worthington to settle on Byxbe’s land.

The following year, the budding village welcomed more settlers.  John Kilbourn, Ralph Slack, Elem Vining, Sr., and Adonijah Rice were among this second group.  Byxbe went back east again to solicit more pioneers and convinced Joseph Prince, James Gregory, Solomon Jones, George Fisher, and John B. Grist to come in 1805.  Joseph Patrick, David Armstrong, Samuel and David Landon, and Gideon and William Oosterhause were other early settlers.

Hidden Creek Farm Market near Berkshire Corners

Hidden Creek Farm Market near Berkshire Corners

Major Thomas Brown was an 1806 arrival and was instrumental in organizing Berkshire Township.  He was a merchant, and like Byxbe, was from Berkshire County, Massachusetts.  When Delaware County came into being two years later, many of Byxbe’s compatriots were elected as county officials.  Both he and Brown became associate judges.

In 1807, two other instrumental people arrived in Berkshire.  Ichabod Plumb was one of the original members of the Scioto Company that came to Worthington in 1803.  Dr. Reuben Lamb was persuaded by Byxbe to come to Berkshire Corners with the idea that it would soon be the county seat.  Byxbe even went so far as to suggest the state capitol might be moved to Berkshire.  Lamb agreed to come and would eventually be Delaware County’s first recorder.  He was a respected doctor, formed the first Masonic lodge, and helped found St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.  He had the first drugstore and his name can still be seen on the Lamb’s Block building at Sandusky and Winter streets.

Byxbe gradually turned away from the Corners and came into more land in Delaware through collaboration with Henry Baldwin.  The short version of the story is that he moved to Delaware to focus on new developments there.  Some of Byxbe’s friends went with him, but others stayed and persevered.

In 1808, Byxbe and others convinced the state legislature to separate Delaware County from Franklin.  The first three townships were Radnor, Liberty and Berkshire.  The slicing and dicing of land and reassignment of boundaries would go on until about 1820 and Berkshire has remained in its current form since then.

Wildflowers along Big Walnut Community Trail

Wildflowers along Big Walnut Community Trail

In 1837, the Ohio Gazetteer and Traveler’s Guide reported that Berkshire Corner’s was a post office settlement with 180 residents and several businesses.  The guide further describes Berkshire as one of the richest townships in the county, mentions Galena and Sunbury and estimates 1500 township residents.  The Berkshire Academy boasted of providing a more advanced education and was in operation from 1840-1855.

A post office was active until as late as 1902.  People in Galena had to come here for mail until they established their own postal service.  This was also an area where farmers would bring herds of hogs through to be weighed.  By 1880 there still remained a store, two wagon shops, a blacksmith and two churches.

Today you might not give it a passing glance as you drive through, but if you get caught at the light, consider what once was and could have been.  The Berkshire Cemetery is nearby and includes the remains of many of these pioneers, but not those of Byxbe who was buried at Oak Grove.  He died in 1826, having “frittered away” most of his fortune.

Railroad bridge over Big Walnut Creek

Railroad bridge over Big Walnut Creek

At least Berkshire Corners has a stop light and a few buildings left.  Rome Corners has nothing but the name of the road to prove it ever existed.  Once lorded over by Almon Price, also known as “The Pope”, Rome was incorporated in 1838.  Price ran the Delaware Chair Company, and as he focused more on that business, his interest in developing Rome languished.  At one time there were several businesses and for several decades there was an annual fair.  Rome was located where Cheshire, South Galena and Rome Corners roads meet in a five-way intersection, also known as “Five Points”.  Today the Berkshire Township Hall is on Rome Corners Road.

According to Forgotten Ohio, there was another small railroad town called Big Walnut right at the edge of Sunbury.  It supposedly existed from 1900 -1913, near Walnut and McGill streets where the railroad tracks crossed Big Walnut Creek.  Sunbury eventually grew into and around this area.  Today you can still get to the railroad bridge that goes over the creek, but it is not well marked and open only to pedestrians.  There are hopes that this might connect to other county bike trails and be part of the Ohio to Erie trail at some point.

View from under Big Walnut Creek railroad bridge

View from under Big Walnut Creek railroad bridge

Galena and Sunbury are the heart of Berkshire Township today.  Both prospered because they were stagecoach stops so by the time the railroad was established in 1873, they were already set up with hotels, taverns, goods and services.  Galena’s history and parks were featured in an earlier article, so I’ll focus more on Sunbury here.

One of Sunbury’s earliest settlers was Benjamin Carpenter, and his brother Gilbert settled close by in Galena.  William and Lawrence Myers were also in Sunbury very early.  It was the Myers brothers that cofounded the village in 1816.  Family records show that they came from Pennsylvania at a very young age, and while the 22 year old Lawrence owned the land north of the square, the 20 year old William owned the land to the south.

David Armstrong and Joseph Patrick moved over from Berkshire Corners.  Other early settlers during those first decades were Gilbert Adams, Rufus Atherton, Steven Bennett, Jedidiah Collins, Hezekiah Roberts, and Artemis Cutter.  Also noted in historical pages were Norman and Daniel Abbey, Alvereus Hendrick, Jobez Mannesy, George Dennison, James Perfect, and Truman Thomas.

Myers Inn - home of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society

Myers Inn – home of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society

In 1820 Lawrence Myers started an inn at a prime location for travelers.  Until 1873, stagecoaches stopped here regularly and changed horses.  The Myers Inn is still standing and now belongs to the Big Walnut Area Historical Society.  They hold regular programs there, and on June 21st it was be featured as part of a program sponsored by the Delaware County Historical Society.  The museum is open regularly and is a real treat to visit.

The BWAHS has done wonders with preserving Delaware County history for several townships.   I frequently link to their website because of this and some examples include a great collection of photographs and articles.  The Delaware County Memory project also scans and preserves documents, such as a copy of a Berkshire Township record book from 1807-1843.

Of the many other historical buildings in Sunbury, the town hall stands strong and proud on the square.  Built in 1868 for $6500, the hall has been used in many different ways over the past 150 years.  The third story was built by the Masons, who used it for their lodge for over 90 years.  It has been a bank, a library, a fire station, a school, and a jail.  It has also been used for church groups and today it is the home of Sunbury’s village offices.

Sunbury Town Hall

Sunbury Town Hall

Sunbury has a history of many different business and manufacturers.  By 1880 there were places to buy hats, jewelry, clothes, shoes and fresh baked goods.  Wagons were made and repaired here, and you could find a blacksmith, a gun shop and a hardware store.  With three churches, three saloons and two hotels, Sunbury had all of your bases covered.  In 1888 and for many years after, First Fridays in Sunbury meant stock sales in the town square.

One of the most well known companies located here was Nestle.  Sunbury already had a successful creamery in the late 1800s and it was eventually purchased by Nestle.  This is where Nescafe instant coffee was created in 1938.  There was also a handle factory that shipped its wares as far away as California and Europe, and the Sunbury Manufacturing Company was known for producing farm equipment.

Sunbury Co-operative Creamery Wagon (BWHS picture)

Sunbury Co-operative Creamery Wagon (BWAHS picture)

Transportation gradually shifted from horse and buggy to railroad, and improvements were made to the roads.  The Delaware, Sunbury and Berkshire Pike was established in 1868.  There were two toll houses and one was at Carter’s Corners.  The toll was 5 cents for a buggy, but 10 cents for a wagon and team of horses.  The Cleveland, Columbus and Mt. Vernon Railroad was finished in 1873, with a little help from Sunbury residents.  They donated land and raised $22,000 towards construction.

Today you can zip across 36/37 and be in Sunbury in less than 20 minutes.  Take a right at Berkshire Corners and visitHidden Creek Farms market on South Galena Road.  In business for 17 years, they will be having “Farm Field Days” during the first weekend in August.  It will include BBQ, hayrides, and other activities.  They also hold an annual fall festival.

Your road trip to Sunbury should include the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial.  Dedicated in 2007, it is the official memorial of the State of Ohio to those who lost their lives in the war on terrorism since 9/11/2001.  The Sunbury Memorial Park, which is the main cemetery maintained by the village, is across the street and is a nice place to walk through.

Catch of the day near Hoover off Dustin Road

Catch of the day near Hoover off Dustin Road

Sunbury’s town square gets the most action when flea market season rolls around.  Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day are the three main events.  If the fleas are too much, try any Saturday and hit the farmer’s market.  Also on the square, you’ll find free summer movies, dance lessons, and while you are in town, you can go roller-skating.

Besides the quaint town square, Sunbury has parks and trails to explore.  Delaware County Preservation Parks maintains the Big Walnut Community Trail and leases the trailhouse to the Delaware County Model Railroaders will hold five open houses this summer.

Sunbury has two reservoirs that are open to the public. Known as Sunbury Fishing Park, they hold an annual fishing derby every May.  If indoor pursuits are more your speed, the Sunbury Community Library is a great place to visit and can help with local history and genealogical research.

Elsewhere in Berkshire Township, you have all of the areas near Galena and Hoover Reservoir covered in an earlier article.   The township has a vision for growth and the comprehensive plan shows proposed and current parks and recreation areas.

There is no shortage of food in Berkshire Township either.  Interested in heart healthy bison jerky?  Visit Virgil’s Jerky Plus.  Goodfellaz Pizzeria also comes with high ratings.  The Firehouse Tavern and Sunbury Grill never disappoint either.

If you fall in love with this slice of Delaware County, you might be interested in a little house in Sunbury.  Or perhaps being on 36 acres along Rattlesnake Creek is more your speed.  Despite the giant Northstar development and a looming outlet mall, there is still a lot of good old country and small town living left in Berkshire Township.  Fill up the tank and enjoy the ride! 

Sunbury Fishing Park, Sunset #2

Sunbury Fishing Park, Sunset #2

Note: This is the final in series of articles on Delaware County townships, parks and history.  Future articles will focus on Delaware Township and specific landmarks and locations.  And they’ll be shorter.  Thanks for tagging along with me on this adventure!  Great appreciation goes to all of the historical and genealogical societies, researchers, photographers and writers who help document and preserve our county history.

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