Pages 278 - 282

History of Butler County

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As we have noted in our article on the topography of the county, the main stream runs south-west, while all its tributaries have south-east valleys. Even the Great Miami at some former period diverged from its present route and bent to the east. The larger and more plainly marked of these channels is that which divides just below Hamilton, and follows the line of the present Mill Creek through Fairfield and Union Townships. This valley is in the neighborhood of a mile wide, and the gravel and bowlders show plainly where its waters once flowed. The other channel of the Miami began in Lemon Township, and followed Dick's Creek through this and Warren County until it finally debouched in the Little Miami. The canal follows the valley first mentioned, while the Lebanon Canal once followed the other. It is probable that these depressions, as well as those of the various creeks, owe much to glacial action.

In the earliest map of this region the Miami is indicated as Rocky River. Its bed in many places shows the rock foundation, and so do these of Seven-Mile Creek and its affluents. But Twin Creek and Indian Creek have the evidences of greater antiquity, as their beds are entirely alluvial, so far as is visible to the eye, and the rock is buried beneath. In each valley there is a little extent of level ground, varying from a few yards to upwards of three miles wide in the Miami at Hickory Bottom, in the south part of Madison Township and north part of St. Clair. These bottoms are known as prairies, and were partly without wood at the beginning of the settlements, and where free were covered each year with an excellent growth of grass. These low-lying alluvial districts cover an area of not less than eighty square miles, or between one-fifth and one-sixth of the total surface.

This county is one of blue limestone. Most of this is not of a high character for the quarry; but there are several beds that make excellent building-stone. Orton's geological survey, which we shall follow in this description, says one of the best sections in the county can be found at or near Hamilton. In the quarries just west of the river, the section can be begun at a horizon about two hundred and seventy-five feet above low water at Cincinnati, and it can be followed in frequent outcrops to the summit of Heilsman's Hill, on the Millville pike, where many of the characteristic fossils of the Lebanon division are found.

The bedded rocks of Butler County belong, with the exception of the very limited area of one or two square miles, to the Lower Silurian or Cincinnati group of Ohio. The exception named is found in the northeastern corner of Oxford Township, where a spur of the cliff limestone crosses the county line, and covers a section or two of the county. Both the Clinton and Niagara formations are shown here, but the area is so small, and is known to so few residents of the county, comparatively, that it may be dismissed from further consideration.

The Butler County scale begins at about two hundred feet above the base of the system, and extends to the summit of the series. In Cincinnati this system is about eight hundred feet in thickness, making the Lebanon beds about three hundred, the Cincinnati division proper four hundred and twenty-five, and the Point Pleasant beds fifty feet. Thus in this county it gives about six hundred feet of bedded rocks. There are few points of interest in the formation at large that are not found in Butler County, and on the other hand there are few peculiarities of stratification or fossil contents that deserve special mention as differing from other portions of the Cincinnati group.

The streams in the vicinity of Oxford, Four-Mile, and its tributaries, furnish very prolific although not very extended exposures. The horizon is quite definitely fixed by the presence of Orthis retrorsa, Salter; Orthis Carleyi, Hall. This shell is found on the banks of Four-Mile very near to the water's edge, directly east of the village of Oxford. The vertical range of this fossil is very limited, while its horizontal range is wide, so that it serves an excellent purpose as a landmark on the system. Its latitude is a horizon about four hundred and seventy-five feet above low water at Cincinnati, or about three hundred and forty-five above low water in Hamilton.

The Oxford sections are of interest from the fact that they yielded thirty-five years ago many of the type fossils of the formation. The early geological work of David CHRISTY, Esq., ws done in this field, and through him collections of the fossils found here were distributed among eastern and foreign geologists. The name of Oxford is, accordingly, very widely known as one of the typical localities of the blue limestone of Cincinnati group of Southern Ohio. The original cabinet of Mr. CHRISTY is now in possession of the Miami University. It contains a number of interesting fossils.

Wayne and Madison Townships, and especially the latter, furnish unsurpassed exposures of the Lebanon beds on the banks of the smaller streams that drain their highlands. Kemp's Run, near Middletown Station, furnishes excellent ground for the collector, as do several branches that flow from Loy's Hill to Twin Creek, on the north line of the county.

The lowest ground in the county is to be found on its southern boundary in the Miami Valley. Its approximate elevation above the level of low water in Cincinnati is fifty feet. The alluvial division represents the valleys both ancient and modern - the eroded regions from which the rocks have been carried away to a depth at least below existing drainage courses. These areas could be appropriately described as the portions of the county that have an elevation of not more than two hundred and fifty feet above the Ohio River. The uplands embrace the lands above this level. A large portion of them, however, lie at an elevation between four and six hundred feet above the Ohio. This division of the surface of the county is much less definite on the east side of the river than it is on the west, for the reason that the drift deposits are heavier in the first named district. In other words, the lines of the valleys are here harder to be traced. There are areas of unmistakable uplands, but they are connected with the valleys by slopes of considerable extent, which completely obscure the true outlines of the rocky floor.

The uplands proper are remnants of the blue limestone plateau which once occupied all of southwestern Ohio, but so much of which has already been removed by aqueous and glacial denudation. They are almost universally covered with shallow deposits of drift, but over very large areas the character of the underlying rock shows through, giving its peculiar features to the topography, to the agricultural capacity, and to the water supply of the districts occupied. These upland drift deposits are in considerable part derived from the waste of blue limestone land to the northward, so that a closer bond of connection exists between the soil and the underlying rock than is usually found in drift-covered regions.

The lowest of the drift deposits, or that which rests directly upon the bedded rocks, is the bowlder clay. This formation is shown with great distinctness and in very numerous exposures in Butler County. Almost every stream in some portion of its course discloses it. A particular feature of the bowlder clay in Butler County is that of ancient vegetable growths, branches, trunks, and roots of trees in large quantities. Examples can be seen in following almost any stream to its source, but one or two points may be named which are specially noteworthy in this respect. Collin's Run, near Oxford, a small tributary of Four-Mile Creek, shows in its banks very numerous exposures of these pre-glacial and interglacial forest growths. The vegetation is embedded in the clay very often, and part of it shows that it has been subjected to rough mechanical agencies. The frequent presence of leaves and roots in or upon the deposit serves to show, however, that the source of the vegetation was not very far removed. The north bank of Elk Creek, opposite the mill at Miltonville, also gives a fine exposure of the clay. At this point a peculiar modification of the bowlder clay is found that deserves particular mention. It is a clay distinctly green in color, and as shown by a single analysis or a specimen obtained at this point, is very rich in potash and soda. The analysis made by Professor Wormley is here subjoined:

Water combined,4.50
Silicic acid,55.10
Iron sesquioxide,6.79
Carbonate of lime,4.55
Potash and soda,4.95
Silicate of lime,3.55


It will be seen that the elements above named, potash and soda, are abundant enough here to make the clay a fertilizer of considerable value. Vivianite, or phosphate of iron, is of frequent, perhaps constant occurrence in it. Vegetable matter is also always present. This green clay has been more frequently met with in Warren and Butler Counties than elsewhere.

The vegetable matter that is intermingled with the bowlder clay is to be distinguished from that which is borne upon its surface. The presence of a buried soil of inter-glacial age has been noticed frequently in other counties. An interesting example is recorded by David CHRISTY in his Letters on Geology, published in 1848. In the last letter of the series, page 5, he says:

"Beneath our diluvium are occasional beds of "hard pan or very tough blue clay, with imbedded pebbles." I had my attention called to this new and interesting feature of our geology last Summer by Robert BECKETT, Esq., eight miles east of Oxford. He called upon me to examine the stump of a tree standing erect in this deposit at a point where a small stream is encroaching upon a bluff. The roots penetrated the hard pan in all directions. Twenty feet of diluvium overlies it. We dug out the stump and a part of the roots. Some years since Mr. BECKETT, in digging a well twenty or thirty rods distant from this point, at a depth of ten feet in the diluvium, struck upon another small tree, standing erect, with the trunk and some of the branches almost entire. This tree continued down to a depth of thirty feet, where he found its roots, in the natural position of growth, penetrating the hard pan."

Mr. J. P. MACLEAN has found, in the neighborhood of MCGONIGLE's and from there northward to Darrtown, trees buried at a depth of from thirty to fifty feet, and is of opinion that a forest is there covered by later deposits.

The yellow gravelly clay that makes the main element of the drift in all of this region is very abundant in this county. It is not formed from the weathering of the upper portions of the bowlder clay in place. The action of the atmosphere upon an exposed bed of blue clay changes its color and also its texture, it is true, but much more than this is required to account for the surface clays of Southern Ohio. They have been worn away from their old places of deposit by water, and have been redeposited. The bowlder clay is always unstratified; the yellow clays are generally distinctly stratified. The uplands of the county, especially of its northern and central portions, are almost universally covered with deposits of this kind. There are no elevations in the county that escape the deposits of the modified drift.

The sand and gravel that make a third element in the drift of this region do not deserve a place by themselves. They form a phase only of the second order of deposits, and must be referred not only to the same general line of agencies, but also approximately to the same time. As has just been stated, the highest elevations in the county give clear proof of having been involved in the submergence, by which alone these facts can be explained. Bowlders are found at all elevations, and some of the largest size are found at the greatest altitude. One lying on the highest land of the west side of Ross Township measured one hundred and thirty feet above ground.

It is to be noticed that the bedded rock has been cut out to a greater depth than existing agencies can account for throughout most of the area of the Miami Valley. The rocky floor is very seldom laid bare by the river, and is as seldom struck in any excavations or borings that are made in the valley.

The valley is filled with immense accumulations of gravel and bowlders. These gravel beds undoubtedly overlie deposits of bowlder clay in many parts of the valley. Indeed, these deposits are occasionally, though rarely, struck in wells and similar excavations, and sometimes they even approach very near the surface. The gravel is of various sorts and sizes, and indicates various degrees of strength in the currents that have transported it. Large quantities of sand are scattered through it. In composition it is principally limestone, thus agreeing with the pebbles and bowlders that fill the drifts of clays of the country; but unlike the true drift pebbles, it has lost the marks of the previous stage in its history, the shaping which it received under the glacial sheet. Its pebbles no longer show the polish and striation due to this stage, but, on the other hand, bear unmistakable marks of having been fashioned in running water.

The gravel beds are in all cases covered with considerable deposits of loam and sand, which form the present sources of the valley. These deposit are arranged in three natural and well marked divisions, the first bottoms, the second bottoms, and the gravel terraces, sometimes called the third bottoms. Of this series, contrary to the general order in geology, the lowest member, the first bottoms, is the newest, and the highest member, the gravel terraces, is the oldest. In other words, the first and second bottoms do not extend beneath the gravel terraces, and consequently do not result from the denudation of portions of the valley. The gravel terraces are at least one hundred feet above low water of the river now. They are generally left in small and isolated fragments on the margins of the valleys, but sometimes they are found to hold considerable areas. In the vicinity of the village of Trenton they can be seen and studied to considerable advantage, as also in the vicinity of Poast-town, on the BANKER and LUCAS farms.

To follow their history we must go back to the Champlain epoch of geology - to the period of submergence that followed the glacial period. The level of this portion of the country was at that time four hundred feet lower than at present. Stratified deposits, on a large scale, of sand, gravel, and clay are found four hundred feet above the present drainage of the country. At the period of greatest submergence there could have been little or no current through the valley, but during the slow advancing movement of depression the valley was filled with immense accumulations of rearranged drift. We may suppose, then, that the gravel terraces are a part of the old floor of the valley, and that they once extended with a degree of uniformity throughout the wide basins in which we find remnants of them today. As the continent emerged once more and slowly regained its present elevation, the river channels would be cut deeper and deeper into these deposits, the former surfaces of which would be left one hundred feet or more above the present river beds.

Little needs to be said in regard to their composition, as the name by which these deposits are known, the gravel terraces, indicates the main element in their making up. Gravel, sand, and loam, variously intermingled, constitute the whole series. The sorting and arranging of materials could only have been accomplished in long extended portions of time. There are no indications of tumultuous deposition in any portion of the series. The soils formed from the weathering and decomposition of the surfaces of these beds are kind and productive.

The second bottoms, like the terraces, must be referred to causes and conditions not now existing in the valley. They lie above the reach of the highest floods, being thirty feet or more above the low water in the main valley. They occupy broad areas, and constitute, by way of excellence, the farming lands of the main valley. They consist of loams of two to six feet in thickness, overlying gravel. They seem to owe their origin to an arrest of the upward movement of the continent, which continues for a considerable period.

The first bottoms are the most recent of the series. They are, indeed, very closely connected with the present state of things. They occupy the deeper parts of the valley, and are covered by all of the higher floods. To these floods they owe their origin in part, being made up of the sediments deposited from high water. An arenaceous deposit filled with land shells is a common and characteristic member of the formation. The shells must have mainly grown upon the regions where we now find them, and were buried by the deposits of annual floods. The clearing of the valleys and their drainage basin has introduced many elements of change, and the formation of these bottom lands may almost be said to have been interrupted. This sandy bed, to which reference has been made, is akin in composition and character to the loess of European geologists. An excellent example of the formation may be seen on the river banks within the limits of the village of Middletown. It is burned here into a cream-colored brick that answers well for a paving brick and which is extensively used for this service.

Professor Wormley gives the following as the analysis of a specimen taken at this point:
Water combined,5.20
Silicic acid,42.30
Sesquioxide of iron,3.48
Carbonate of lime,23.21
Silicate of lime,5.09
Carbonate of magnesia,13.09


As can readily be judged from such a composition, soils of great fertility can not be formed from this deposit, but there can be no doubt that it would serve an excellent purpose as a top dressing for uplands. It is, in reality, a shell marl, and would reward intelligent use very liberally. The thickness of this bed has not been found to exceed four feet in any exposures noted.

There is often associated with the above named formation a sort of clay from two to four feet in thickness that agrees in physical characters very closely with the "joint clay" of the western valleys. Its composition is shown in the appended analysis made by Professor Wormley.
Water combined,4.20
Silicic acid,70.10
Sesquioxide of iron,5.30
Silicate of lime,2.10
Magnesia, carbonate,1.44
Potash and soda, 3.20


This deposit can also be seen at the point named under the last head. It is, however, less widely distributed through the valley.

Butler County, says Professor ORTON, stands scarcely second in productive power to any equal area in the State. No Qualification certainly would be required if the valley of the Great Miami River and that portion of the county lying east of the river were alone to be taken into account. This region might put in an unquestioned claim to be styled the garden of Ohio. It is made up of the broad and fertile intervales of the streams that now traverse the valleys or of the still more desirable areas that were the valleys of an earlier epoch, but which are now deserted by streams, and which are evenly filled with the beds of the later drift, together with uplands rising by gentle slopes to an altitude of four to five hundred feet above the river, and whose surfaces are hardly less productive than the areas first named.

The soil of all this district consists, in great measure, of decomposed limestone gravel, and exhibits every excellence of limestone land. A single area may be noted here as furnishing a unique line of facts in the native vegetation of the county. A chestnut grove is to be found in the southeast corner of union Township, in section fourteen. It is well known that the chestnut confines itself generally to the slate and sandstone soils of the county. Indeed, the boundary between the slates and the limestones in southwestern Ohio could be defined with satisfactory precision by noting the line where the chestnuts begin as one passes eastward. Isolated trees are known in the gravels and sands of limestone districts, it is true, but they are very rare. Dr. John A. WARDER has called attention to one growing near Milford, in the Little Miami Valley, and another is known in Greene county, but in the area to which attention is now invited a forest growth in which the chestnut is a large element is found. The trees have attained a diameter of four feet in some instances, and in others stumps, long dead, are seen with large trees growing from them. The trees fruit well here and reproduce themselves abundantly. Chestnuts (the fruit) were sold to the amount of forty dollars from a single farm a few years ago.

The soil does not betray any peculiarities upon a superficial view, but the wells in the vicinity all show a great deposit of yellow sand beneath the surface. Many fruitless attempts to secure wells in this neighborhood are on record, the sand proving to be a quick sand, and caving in so rapidly as to prevent the sinking of the shaft water. It has been thought that the sand would prove to be a molding sand, but no trials of it have been made. The bed of sand is anomalous, and it is interesting to note that the native forest growth which covers it is also exceptional. There are no peculiarities in the remaining drift soils of the county that require mention.

The poorest of them, like those covering the uplands of the northern and western townships, if handled with skill and subjected to a rational system of agriculture, would take high rank when compared with even the strongest lands of the Atlantic border. Measured against the fruitful valleys and slopes just mentioned, and tilled under a system which even these noble tracts can not much longer endure, they seem somewhat stubborn and sterile.

There are no native soils on the uplands of the county, but the beds of drift grow thinner as we pass to the southward, and occasionally they disappear for limited areas from the slopes of the hills. The soil that is there formed from the waste of the shales and limestones of the Cincinnati series is unusual excellence. The famous blue grass lands of Kentucky, it will be remembered, is derived from this same system.

The fact that the boundary of the drift is being rapidly neared as we approach the southern line of the county explains certain points in the topography of the four southwestern townships. They are much rougher and more broken than the remaining areas. This arises from the failure of the drift to cover the irregularities here as it has done elsewhere. There is certainly no reason to suppose that the contour of the rocky floor is more irregular in one district than in another. What Butler County owes to the drift can be seen by comparing Liberty and Union Townships of the southeastern corner with Reily and Morgan Townships of the south-west.

The views furnished by the uplands, especially as we approach the Great Miami Valley from either side, are many of them very wide and attractive. Several can be named that are not to be surpassed in quiet pastoral beauty by any thing within the limits of the State.

From SHIVELY's Hill, near Jacksonburg, a wide and beautiful expanse of country is shown of the main valley on the east and south, and of the valley of Seven Mile Creek on the west.

A still more commanding outlook is furnished on the farm of Randolph MEEKER, near Pisgah. It comprises nearly one-fourth part, and that the richest corner, of Butler County.

Such elements as these are not to be overlooked in making out the catalogue of the attractions that a county possesses for human occupation.

The water supply of Butler County can not be said to be good. The geological formation from which the county is built is universally and necessarily poor in this respect. The rain-fall cannot penetrate the fine grained clays of the Cincinnati series, and is consequently turned outwards in surface drainage. Wherever the rock is heavily covered with drift beds the supply is improved, both in quality and quantity; but in the thinly covered uplands reliance can not be safely placed on wells. There is no excuse, however, for a defective supply for either man or beast in a district which has so generous a rainfall as Southern Ohio enjoys. It is only necessary to save the roof water in properly constructed and properly guarded cisterns.

The highest land in the county is not more than six hundred and fifty or six hundred and seventy feet above the Ohio River at Cincinnati. The highest land measured is in the western portion of Madison Township, the ground now owned by Hampton H. LONG. Another very high spot is two miles west of Jacksonburg, Wayne Township, on the farm of Colonel PHARES. Its elevation by barometer is six hundred and forty-two feet above the base above named. LOCKE gives the elevation of a point of cliff limestone that barely enters the county on the north line of Milford Township as six hundred and one feet. Two miles due west of Oxford, on the Fairfield Turnpike, an elevation, determined by the level, occurs of six hundred and ten feet above the Ohio River at Cincinnati. The elevation of a few of the prominent points in the county are appended:

Miami Canal at Hamilton above low water at Cincinnati,169
Low water of the Miami at Hamilton,131
Middletown, canal level,211
Oxford, grade of railroad at depot,480
Oxford, highest ground within corporation,532
PHARES's farm, two miles west of Jacksonburg,642
SHIVELY's Hill, one mile south of Jacksonburg,563
Turnpike, two miles west of Oxford,610
North-east corner of Oxford Township, on Darrtown Pike (formerly RILEY's tavern),601
Miami River at Venice,050