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Chicago F.A. Battey and Company Publishers 1882


By: R.H. Rerick

Clay Township- Swamps and Marshes-Journey to the Wilderness-Early Homes and Labors-
   Appalling Mortality in 1838-Growth and Improvement-Churches and Schools

     In 1843, there was a school begun in the Taylor Schoolhouse, just over in Clearspring, which was taught by Elizabeth Sanburn, daughter of Eliphalet Sanburn, and afterward the wife of Andrew Ellison, Esq. In 1844,
a schoolhouse was built on Taylor's farm, in which Hannah Parker was the first teacher. A school was maintained here until 1858, when the house was destroyed. It was in this house that the body of Charles 
Wolford, who, in a moment of derangement, cut his throat in a wood near by, in early days, was laid out to 
await the coroner. A saw-mill in this neighborhood, owned by Davis & Fought, and afterward by William Hudson, was burned during the war. Christian Plank built a saw-mill in Section 33, in 1866.

     The early trading of the settlers was done at Lima, and that town and LaGrange continue to be the markets of the township, there being no stores or taverns in its limits. The first road to be laid out was the Baubaga road, running directly west from LaGrange through the center of the township, and about the same time the Pigeon 
road, following in part the old trail past Buck Lake. About 1840, the road running north and south past the 
Fleck Mills was opened. Between 1840 and 1850 the population increased at a good rate, and it is impractical 
to give an account of the progress of the settlement. The later history of the township, further than that given in our sketches of the churches and schools, gives but a few points of notice. In 1843, there was a memorably severe winter; provisions were very scarce in the settlement and no way of getting supplies. The snow lay on the ground
continuously from the middle of November until the 3d of April. A great many cattle and horses died for lack of  food. This was a discouraging time, and the necessity of eating corn-bread as a regular diet created earnest longings for the wheat fields of the East.

     Among the industries of the township years ago was iron mining in a small way. There are considerable 
deposits of bog-iron ore, or limonite, in Hobbs' Marsh, which were for a time mined and the ore taken to the old forge in Lima Township; but the business soon proved unprofitable and was discontinued some time before the war. One of the most important establishments in the county is the Fleck Mills, upon the site of the original 
saw-mill built in 1837. E. Fleck, in 1881 the sole owner of the mills, was born in 1834, in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.Upon his coming to age, he went to La Porte County, to learn the trade of carpentering, and then returned 
to Ohio, where he was married in 1857. In 1865, he came to the township with his father, bought the old mill property, and rebuilt the saw-mill in 1867. In 1871, the flouring-mill was completed, which grinds the grists for a 
great part of the population west of LaGrange. The mills have never suffered from fire and no accident has occurred, save an occassional washing away of the dam.

     In that long-to-be-remembered year of conflagration, 1871, there were destructive fires in the marshes of 
Clay. One started in the marsh southwest of Fleck's Mills, and came sweeping up in that direction with the fury 
of a cyclone. The whole population turned out to meet and keep out the flames, and all other work was neglected. A great many fences were destroyed and a barn belonging to Widow Latta was burned. It was so throughout 
the township, and if it had not been for the heroic efforts of the people, much valuable property would have gone up in smoke. A funeral was being conducted at the Sayler Schoolhouse at the time when the fire came up in that neighborhood. The sense of  danger and the demand for help at the fire overcame every other feeling, and in a
few moments scarcely enough were left to attend to the burial. The early settlers have had much experience in fighting fire, but none equal to that in 1871.

     A startling deed of violence took place on the evening of  December 18, 1861, which resulted in the arrest of Hiram Springer, Daniel Rowan, Whiting Phillips and several other young men on the charge of murder. The party of young fellows and Mr. Jacob Beam and several members of his family became engaged in an 
unfortunate conflict at Mr. Beam's house, in which he was struck down and his neck broken, resulting in his immediate death. The men above named were indicted for murder, but all were discharged except Springer
who was found guilty of manslaughter, but was ultimately discharged.

     On the afternoon of January 20, 1876, an appalling accident occurred in the township, the saddest in the 
history of the county. A steam saw-mill belonging to William Price and Joseph Kennedy, and located two 
miles northwest of LaGrange, was blown to pieces on that day, and three men instantly killed. The mill was totally demolished and scattered over an area of ten acres. The proprietors and employees were in the mill at the time of the explosion, and Price was thrown some distance, bruised and stunned. Kennedy was so badly torn and bruised that he breathed his last as soon as picked up. Sebatian Goss, the sawyer, was instantly killed and 
Henry Corwin, the engineer, was terribly mangled. To add to the horror, a little child of Mr. Kennedy's was so badly scalded that its life was long despaired of. The proprietors had been residents of Clay for about three years. The terrible event produced a profound sensation. It was one of those mysterious explosions for which no one 
can be blamed and cannot be explained.

     Clay Township is now populous and becoming well developed. The marshes are being drained and cultivated, fine roads traverse the township in every direction, the fertile soil is well tilled and yields abundantly, and many 
fine residences attest the comfortable circumstances of the farmers who have made Clay what it is, and now have 
a right to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

     Brief sketches of the churches and schools of the township will serve to indicate its social development. The 
first religious meetings in the township were held by a Methodist Episcopal minister, stationed at Lima. The same denomination have at present small classes at Green's and Roy's Schoolhouses, whose pastor is Rev. B. H. Hunt. The Rev. James Latham, a very earnest and fiery circuit preacher of the Protestant Methodist Church, began to preach at Sayler's Schoolhouse about the middle of August, and as the settlers had been without religious services for some time, he met with great success, in spite of the unfavorable season. A regular old-fashioned revival was the result; people crowded to the meetings, and a great many conversions occurred.
The Bethel Church, which continues to be the leading society, was organized at this time. Before this time, there had been an organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Sayler Schoolhouse, near the present home 
of Milton Bingham,which was ministered to by Revs. Miller, Fairchild and others. The Bethel society, at its formation, had thirty-five members; there are now sixty-six.

     Among the early ministers were S. F. Hale, B.B. Newell, James McKinlayH. H. Hulbert, D. B. Clark and Stephen Phillips. The Bethel Church continued its meetings in the Sayler Schoolhouse until 1880, when it was proposed to erect a church. The work was commenced at once with great spirit, the brick was drawn during 
a busy season from a yard several miles distant, and, in eight months, one of the neatest and most commodious
churches in the county was erected, and the debt raised. The church is in dimensions 36x48, is comfortably 
seated, and accomodates an audience of 400. About one thousand persons attended the dedication services in January, 1881, and the sermon was delivered by President George B. Michelroy, of Adrian college. At this meeting $1,285 was raised. A pleasant feature of the enterprise was the absence of all discord among the members. Among those who were active in the building of the church were Josiah Eaton, Franklin Davis, Michael Gerrin, Hiram Carnahan, Samuel Carnahan, Samuel Crowl and Ephraim Latta. The Methodist Protestant Church also has societies meeting at Robbin's Schoolhouse (seventeen members). Rev. L. F. Hutt is the present pastor (1881). Josiah Eaton has been for some time Superintendent of the Sabbath school in Bethel Church, and is Vice President of the County Sabbath School Association. A short time before the Latham revival, the Baptist Church had an organization at the Robbins Schoolhouse, but it is not now maintained. At Roy's Schoolhouse there is a Lutheran society at present. The Amish and German Baptists have a small following in the western part of the township.

     The earliest schools have already been referred to. All of those first built in the various school districts have been torn down and replaced by new and commodious houses, except Poynter's Schoolhouse, which is of 
recent erection. The present houses are known as Shirley's, Sayler's, Ford's, Beatty's, Green's, Rowan's, Robbin's, Miller's, Walter's, Everett's, Roy's and Poynter's, all of frame, and valued at $6,500. Twelve teachers are at present employed, and receive $1.40 per day on the average, if of the sterner sex, and $1.13, if 
women, for an average term of 140 days. The average attendance for 1880-81 was 221, out of an enrollment of 384. The first division of the township into school districts was made January 5, 1844. The following is a list of Trustees for the township: First, Michael Sprague, George Hood and Frank Gould; Second, John 
Merriman, Elisha Thorp and Obadiah Lawrence; Third, Eliphalet Sanburn, Erastus and Samuel Clark; Fourth, William B. Elliott, Jared O. Chapman and Reuben Hays; Fifth, Michael P. and James M. Sprague, and Samuel Carnahan.

     Following is a list of the Justices of the Peace since 1842, as shown by the records: William Woodward, 1851-56; Sylvester Davis, 1850; Hugh Finlay, 1849; Levi Knott, 1847-49;  J. S. Merriman, 1845-50; Kiah Gould, 1844-49; George Hood, 1842-44; James Finlay, 1855; William Lewis, 1854-58; Josiah T. Bowen, 1854-58; Thomas Snyder, 1860-72; Emanuel Fleck, 1868-76; George D. Rockwell, 1872-80; Lewis Lisher, 1876-84; John Robbins, 1879-81; Sheldon Robbins, 1880-84. By the census of 1880 the following persons over the age of seventy-five, were shown to be residents of the township: James Boyd, seventy-nine; John Brindley, eighty-three; Jerusha Eatenger, seventy-six; George Eatenger, seventy-six; Jacob Erb, eighty-three; Frederick Labold, seventy-seven; Jacob Mosher, eighty-two; Arethusa Mosher, seventy-seven; Eleanor Norris, eighty; Hetty Sprague, seventy-six.

Volunteer transcription by Pati Blowers May. Material for transcription gathered by Barbara Henderson. 

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