St. Clair, as it now exists, is bounded on the north by the township of Wayne, on the east by the Miami River and the lower end of Madison Township, on the south by the river, and on the west by Hanover and Ross Townships. The township is irregular on the south side, resulting from the fact that the Miami meanders through the very fine bottoms along it course, a large portion of which are in St. Clair.
West of Seven-Mile Creek the township is hilly, and in some places so much so as to render the cultivation of the soil extremely laborious. This range of hills begins to assume proportions about two miles south of the north line of the township, and continues almost unbroken down the west side of the Miami to its mouth. They vary in height, but are of the same general nature. This range of hills in some places approaches very near the river; then again it leaves a wide and fertile bottom between the stream and their base.
Fine dwelling-houses, with all their necessary out-buildings, dot the township. On the pike leading to Seven-Mile village, and on the Hamilton Road to Trenton, this is especially true.
The original forest here was very dense and fine. The country between the river and the hills was covered by a splendid growth of oak, sugar tree, walnut, buttonwood, or sycamore, hackberry, blue and white ash, and buckeye. Pea-vines covered the whole face of the country from the Miami to the foot of the hills, and extended as far north as Somerville. They, however, only lasted for a few years after the settlements became established. Constant pasturage by the cattle soon destroyed them. They were very nutritious, and during the Fall stock lived without the least care for their owners.
The original forests furnished but little income to the settlers. A flat-boat which would now be worth fifty dollars for wood alone, would sell in New Orleans for three and five dollars. Nothing but the finest timber could be used to good advantage, and in cutting no pains were taken to preserve the noblest of the trees. An unsparing hand cut them down. Walnut trees as straight as a die that would reach up seventy-five feet without a limb, and from three to five feet in diameter at the butt, were rolled into log-heaps, and consumed by fire, because the settlers needed the land on which they stood.
Aside from the pea-vines, spice-bushes, and some sassafras sprouts, there was no great growth of saplings or briers. After the first clearings were made, very little trouble was experienced on account of sprouts, bushes, and young briers springing up to harass the husbandman.
The hills of which we have spoken, in the early history of the township, were sprinkled with log shanties, rather below the average, turnip patches, and blackberry bushes. The sink holes and hollow trees furnished the opossum a favorite place of hiding, and gave this body of land a name which is now almost forgotten, though always remembered by the old people with a smile, " 'Possum Hill."
Four-Mile is the principal stream of the township. It takes its head in Preble County, and has many tributaries. From the north-west corner of the township, where it enters, it flows with many windings until it empties into the Miami. Its first tributary on the west, above Hamilton, is St. Clair's Run. Scott's old mill stands just above its mouth. Near the old Fear-not grist-mill a creek of considerable size, flowing mainly from Hanover Township, joins with Four-Mile.
Seven-Mile (quite, if not altogether, as large as Four-Mile) unites with the above stream near the middle and on the north side of Section 8. Its current is somewhat rapid, and during a greater portion of the year, supplies an abundance of water for milling purposes. Along its bed are thousands of perches of gravel, which furnish material for making fine roads.
Cotton Fun heads altogether in the township of Wayne, flows almost directly south, and empties into Four-Mile about one mile and a half below the mouth of Seven-Mile.
Five-Mile Run flows between Cotton Fun and Seven-Mile, and is fed principally by a spring near the center of Section 4. This spring was known to the army on its way north to chastise the Indians, and is still used by the family who reside on the farm.
In the north-eastern part of the township two streams flow southward until they reach the centers of Sections 1 and 2 respectively; here they sink into the sand and are lost to view.
Two-Mile Creek empties into the Miami opposite what might be called the mouth of Old River. Its prongs extend out into Hanover for a considerable distance. South of Rossville there are a few little streams, but of no consequence.
Among the early roads was one known as Augspurger's, which branched off from the Seven-Mile road, where it crossed Four-Mile, and took almost a true easterly course to the Miami, near the mouth of Gregory's Creek in Liberty Township. There was also another highway (which shot off from the road to Seven-Mile) to Jacksonburg in Wayne Township. A similar improvement led to Trenton.
That part of St. Clair Township lying south of Hamilton was settled principally by Germans from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee, between the years 1802 and 1810. The island below the city was at an early day separated by a slough or bayou for the main land, and was owned by men whose deeds called for property adjacent on the west. There was about seventy-five acres between the slough and the river.
Watson's mill, one mile below the suspension bridge, was built by the TRABER brothers, who were millwrights from the East. The first house was a frame, and had three sets of buhrs; the gearing was made of wood. The mill was two stories high, with a garret, and was when erected, one of the best in the country. It continued until the hydraulic was built, and in 1852 or 1853 the frame and machinery were removed, and used in the construction of a manufacturing establishment in the Second Ward of Hamilton, on Crawford's Run. The Traber brothers were the second proprietors; and Matthias, Resor & Co., the third. In order to get the mill where it was built, the settlers allowed WATSON to run the water through the bayou. Matthias & Co. were the fourth owners, selling to William REILY, and he to a German clergyman named RICHTER, the latter of whom erected the establishment in the city of Hamilton, mentioned elsewhere. There was a saw-mill attached to the grinding department. The grist-mill was run by three large tub-wheels. Both of these establishments went down at the same time. The common belief was that the presence of the dam so near Hamilton affected the health of the city, and hence the mills were condemned by the health authorities. In high water the Miami takes the course of the old mill-race. Opposite Watson's mill was one then owned by the Traber brothers, both of them being run by the same dam.
The Fear-not Mill on Four-Mile was built in 1816 by Joseph WATSON, a bachelor from Pennsylvania. Watson was a lithe young man, full of energy, and when his pioneer establishment was erected in the wilderness, the neighbors predicted a failure in business within a short time. Watson gave his mill a name which always reminded his friends of his character--"Fear-not." It is probable that Mr. Watson was the same man who erected the mill below Hamilton described above, which bore his name. The first building at the Fear-not site was a frame, two stories high, undershot wheel, and two sets of buhrs. Watson in due course of time sold out, and about twenty years after the first mill was built, a second was erected. It was also a two story frame, with an undershot wheel and two sets of buhrs. While Watson was in possession of the mill, he also did a large amount of sawing in an establishment near by. A carding-mill was also in active operation for some time.
FLENNER 's grist-mill, at the junction of Four-Mile and Seven-Mile Creeks, was erected forty-odd years ago. It is a two story frame, with wings, and has for the propelling power an undershot water-wheel, twelve feet in diameter. There are three sets of buhrs. The water was taken from Seven-Mile and emptied into Four-Mile by the tail-race.
About two years ago, this mill ceased to run. At one time, about 1830, there was a still-house in operation at this point. The old mill can yet be seen.
The second of a number of mills in St. Clair Township, on Four-Mile, below the celebrated Fear-not mill of Watson's, was owned by Samuel SCOTT, and stood a few rods above the mouth of St. Clair's Run. A good sawmill was attached to the grinding department. The gristmill was a two-story frame building run by an undershot wheel. Scott was in this neighborgood at an early day, and is said to have entered Section16, on which his mill stood. He was a man of much force of character; in the various walks of life he played an important part. There were three flat-boats built at Scott's Mill; one by Mr. Scott and two by his neighbors. They were floated to Hamilton empty and there loaded for New Orleans. Their owners returned by land.
George FLENNER had a distillery in 1833 in a loghouse in the eastern part of the township on the GEPHERT farm He died not long since. Still-houses in the first settlement of this valley were considered a necessity; and many of the best people in the country were found engaged in the manufacture of whisky.
Philip SOWERS had a still-house some time in the '30s in a log-house near BUSENBARK 's on James CUMMINGS 's farm. David and James CHEVALIER bought out Mr. Sowers and continued the business for some time This distillery has disappeared.
Henry KERNS had another one mile south of Seven-Mile village at an early day, on what is now the pike to Hamilton. He also had an insignificant grist-mill on Seven-Mile Creek, near the still-house, in 1836. Frederic BUBENMYER had a still-house on Section 4 about 1830, located, no doubt, near the famous spring in the center of this section.
Jacob WEHR owned and carried on a distillery in the eastern part of St. Clair fifty years ago, near where Enos Wehr now lives. This establishment ran for seventeen years. It was a log building one and a half stories high. On the WARWICK farm, one-fourth of a mile east of OVERPECK 's, Michael EARHART had a still-house in 1825. His place of business was in a log-house.
Isaac OVERPECK had a large distillery, which he carried on for twenty years, where Richard HINES now lives. Joseph HERSHEY had a distillery at the FLENNER grist-mills forty years ago (which he owned in 1836), in a log-house. His corn was ground in his mill. (Note: HINES or HYNES)
Uncle Samuel P. WITHROW, as he is familiarly known in the northern part of St. Clair, who was born in 1798, says when was twenty-five years of age he could, on getting up early in the morning, see the smoke from thirteen still houses while doing his morning's work. He at that time lived in Wayne Township on Section 27. The capacity of these manufactories was about one barrel per day. Whisky was sold from fifteen to eighteen cents per gallon. Many of these still-houses continued for only five or seven years.
As there was no regularly built school-house, at an early day the church was used for educational purposes also. It continued to fill both these requirements for about thirty-five years.
Among the early preachers was the Rev. Mr. HINING, a German Lutheran from Pennsylvania, but who at that time lived in Montgomery County, Ohio; and the Rev. Mr. DESCOMBES, a German Reformed, who preached here with considerable regularity for some time. He was a citizen of St. Clair Township. The Presbyterians had an organized Church in this end of St. Clair in 1820. Many of the congregation came from the east side of the Miami.
The second or present building was built about forty years ago, and in 1858 was remodeled at a considerable cost. This house is about forty by fifty feet. The land occupied by these houses was given for this purpose by Mr. FISHER and Mr. CRUST, and comprises about one and a half acres, used for both Church and burial purposes. South of the St. Peter's Church and grave-yard, about three-quarters of a mile, Peter Garver began a private burying ground. It has all the appearances at present of age and dilapidation. Many of the first members of the Church are buried near the house in which they worshiped.
James HILL, of Millville, now dead, was a school teacher in the old church, in 1832. He was followed by Captain William GIFFIN. Jonas BALL came soon afterward.
Justice TROUTMAN, who attended school here when a boy, says the "teachers always had a stock of iron-wood switches on hand, stuck above the joist, to be used in cases where the youngsters needed trimming." These men were not very conscientious about the application of the whip. When there were six scholars in the classes they were thought to be large. Among those who attended school here were James GARVER, now a distinguished physician of Minnesota; William GARVER a prominent lawyer, and Henry GARVER, now acting surgeon at the Soldiers' Home, Dayton, Ohio. Jacob TROUTMAN, well known in Hamilton and elsewhere throughout the county, and a man who has filled nearly all the municipal offices in the gift of the people and the city, was another pupil.
The second school-house, or really the first especially erected for educational purposes, was put up about 1840. It was a frame, and stood one mile south of the old church on the Lawrenceburg Road. The present house was built in 1856 or thereabouts, and is a brick.
North-western St. Clair was settled at first by people mainly from the South. They were generally industrious, and many of them brought a considerable amount of furniture, farming utensils, implements for wood-working and such like, with them. The second set of settlers was from Pennsylvania. They added much to the general wealth and prosperity of the community. At last there came a third class, mostly Germans, who did not assimilate well with their neighbors.
Among the early settlers in north-western St. Clair were the BROOKSEs, IRVINGs, WALLACEs, MCCLELLANs, EATONs, CORNELLs, BROWNs, CALDWELLs, ROBINSONs, LONGFELLOWs, GRAYs, and HARRISes. One of the oldest men in the township, William BROOKS, owns nearly four hundred acres in Section 7. His fund of pioneer incidents is complete, and in many cases appears somewhat romantic. His age is nearly eighty-six. The Blue Grass Church, which stood near the Fear-not Mill, was one of the earliest of a large and flourishing set of similar institutions in the county. It was so named because about the time of its organization blue grass spread out over the bottoms in this section of country, furnishing the best of pasture for all kinds of stock. This grass began to appear in considerable quantities as soon as the dense growth of pea-vines had disappeared. For the first appointments the Methodists met at the barn of John GRAY, which stood three-quarters of a mile north-west of the present church. This barn is now standing, owned by William MCKEE, but has greatly changed in appearances since first it was put up. Its original size was thirty by forty feet, and it was then considered a large building of its kind.
The first church, a brick, was erected more than sixty years ago, and stood half a mile east of Four-Mile. It served for both school and religious purposes. John GRAY gave the land on which the house stood. After the death of Mr. GRAY, the Church began to lose its hold upon the people. On account of deaths and removals, it has now ceased to have an organization at all. Among those who united with the Church here, and who have since become somewhat noted, are the Rev. Joseph BROOKS, who died in Kansas some eight years ago, and the Rev. James GRAY, son of John Gray, now a circuit preacher in Indiana. John Gray was buried in a family yard on his farm, but which, in due course of time, was used by the public. Many of those who were buried here have since been taken up by their friends and removed to grave-yards of a more public nature.
About the time the Methodists ceased to exist, the Old School Presbyterians began to hold services in the church. A Church was consequently organized, which used the Methodist church for about eighteen years A new church was then erected, yet standing and in use. Chambers Stewart gave the land on which this house stands. Mr. STEWART, with William BROOKS and Mr. MCKEE, were early Presbyterians. The early ministers came mostly from Hamilton.
At the close of the Methodist Church, fifty-two years ago, a large camp-meeting was held three-fourths of a mile south of the old church, across the creek in a little sugar-tree grove which bordered on the bank of Four-Mile. These meetings were held for two successive seasons, and continued for one week. There were canvas tents of a temporary nature scattered throughout the grove to shelter the worshipers. The Rev. Joshua HOLLAND, the Rev., or Captain, Joseph GASNER, and the Rev. Moses CRUME were among the preachers.
Overpeck's is now a station on the Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railroad, very nearly four miles from the court-house in Hamilton. There are simply a few houses built, something after the manner of other little villages which have from fifty to two hundred inhabitants. One of the most noticeable features of the station is a fine brick building, used for the waiting-room of the railroad, for the post office, and a store, and for the various purposes of township business. There are three separate rooms, all well-kept and substantial. The building looks quite new, and was built about eight years ago.
For the first store-keepers this village had Isaac and John OVERPECK. They were here soon after the railroad was built. Their place of business was in a frame house, near the center of the village, since destroyed by fire. The Overpecks were followed by William IUTZI, who is also the present merchant.
Before the present township house was built, making it a part of the station, waiting-room, and post office and store, the voters of St. Clair cast their ballots on the farm where William CALDWELL now lives. In the course of time West Hamilton was made the voting precinct, and continued to be so used until about 1876.
Henry SELLERS was probably the first blacksmith in the eastern part of the township. His shop was near BUSENBARK's, on the farm now owned by Robert RICHTER.
The German Reformed Church at Overpeck's was organized sixty years ago. Jacob WEHR and wife Catharine; Henry, Charles, and John JACOBY and their wives; Henry KERNS and wife; Mr. WYKEL, who lived near Trenton; Mr. MILLER, and Jacob DESCOMBES were among the early members. The Rev. Messrs. HININGER, GROVER, HINKLE, and DESCOMBES were among the first preachers. At the time of the organization of this Church it was composed almost entirely of Pennsylvania Germans, but was subsequently strengthened by additions from American families. After a period of varying success the present and very respectable Church of both Lutherans and Presbyterians came into existence. The early Presbyterian members were also known as "Pennsylvania Dutch."
The first meeting-house at this point was a hewed log building; it stood in the south-east corner of the yard. Jacob WEHR sold two acres of land at one dollar per acre to the Church authorities for burial purposes and for a building site. The old house has long since passed away. For the second place of worship there was a large brick building capable of seating five hundred people. There was a large gallery above, and underneath were ample accommodations for many more. The old pulpit of this house is now in the possession of Joseph LANDIS, kept as a venerable relic.
The present brick building, which will seat comfortably two hundred and fifty people, was erected a few years before the late war. Charles BARGER, a leading man of Seven-Mile village, organized a Sunday-school here twelve or fifteen years ago.
The first person buried in the grave-yard was Henry JACOBY, more than sixty years ago. There are about two hundred interments in the yard. Every thing about is clean and neat.
About twenty years ago the Mennonite Church at Overpeck's was organized. An acre of ground, upon part of which the church stands, was given to this denomination by Christian SLONACKER, an early member. The membership is composed mainly of Germans. Among those who were instrumental in the organization were Dr. John BORKER, the AUGSPURGERs, and Peter IMHOF. The Rev. Nicholas AUGSPURGER was an early preacher. The first meetings of this society were held in private houses. In the neighborhood where this society is known best at goes by the name of the "Hook-and-Eye" Church.
The Apostles' Church, in this same neighborhood, sprang from the other Mennonite Church, and was composed principally of the younger members. The division was caused on account of some disagreement in discipline. The outside people call the Apostle the "Button" Church, in order to note the improvement of hooks-and-eyes.
For the first school-house in the eastern part of St. Clair there was an old log-house, which stood on the south-east corner of the old CONRAD Farm. It was here in 1812, and was built after the pattern of all log schoolhouses of those days.
For the first school-house in the neighborhood of Overpeck's, a building was erected on the same lot occupied by the present house. It was here in 1820, and for a portion of its furniture had the familiar slab seats, with legs for supports. Mr. WILSON was one of the early teachers.
A stone house took the place of the above log building. It was supplanted by the present brick, a commodious structure capable of seating a very large number of school children.
The following have been the justices of the peace: John HAMILTON, Matthew WINTON, James SMITH, James MILLS, Robert TAYLOR, Lewis LAING, Daniel FLENNER, William CORNELL, George BURNAP, Sampson HUFFMAN, Samuel FLEMING, John NELSON, Samuel GRAY, Isaac P. VANHAGEN, William WARWICH, Russell BURROWS, Mark BOATMAN, Andrew LISTER, John W. ROBISON, Michael BOWERMAN, Joseph MCCLOSKEY, Samuel LANDIS, Andrew CURTIS, Gary LONGFELLOW, John HUNT, William C. HARPER, Levi RICHMOND, William M. BEALL, James B. GRAY, Martin FLENNER, Orrin LINE, Eli STICKLE, Clement CLIFTON, William H. LAYMAN, Oliver TRABER, Albert G. CLARK, Robert HARGITT, Evan DAVIES, Jacob TROUTMAN, John K. WILSON, David S. BENNETT, Mason S. HAMILTON, Jeremiah WARWICK, David FARLOW, John A. OVERPECK, John W. WILSON, Jacob STEEK, Charles SCHNEIDER, John S. GARVER, Conrad GETZ, R. B. DAVIDSON, I.M. WARWICK, James A. WALKER, David A. WARWICK, Walter A. TROWBRIDGE, Andrew FLENNER.
There is only one post-office in the township, Overpeck's. The south part supplies itself from Hamilton, and the north part from Seven-Mile, on the border of Wayne Township, and Trenton, in Madison Township. The postmasters at Overpeck's have been John A. OVERPECK, Feb. 25, 1860; Isaac E. OVERPECK, Mar. 27, 1865; Joseph A. KENNELL, Apr. 4, 1881; William IUTZI, Apr. 18, 1882. The office was discontinued from Jul. 10, 1879 to Feb. 27, 1880.