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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Recalling The History Of The Little Village Of Oregonia

Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 86
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

As we tour this beautiful county of ours, we should not forget to visit the quaint little town of Oregonia. As one drives to the little village from any direction, a more picturesque view cannot be found. The town is bounded on the west by the Little Miami River and a row of steep hills, and on the east by a sheer cliff-like bluff. To this writer, the total scene would seem to be an artist's paradise.
Oregonia was settled by Nebo Gaunt in the year 1802 or 1803. According to Beer's History, he built a mill in 1802 that passed to the ownership of Judge Ignatius Brown and David Brown, and was known as Gaunt's and Brown's Mill till probably about 1820. In connection with this mill David Brown built a paint mill for the manufacture of Spanish brown and its compatible shades, the materials being obtained from a point above the mill. Samuel Harris wrote in his history of Washington Township, that Gaunt was "an ingenious man, and could work as a millwright, carpenter, wagon-maker, blacksmith, etc. He afterward built a two-story frame house and made nearly all the nails in its construction. It also seems that Gaunt set up the first blacksmith shop in the township.
According to information the writer has found in the Warren County Museum, the Gaunt family was among the Quaker families migrating from Wateree and Bush River, South Carolina. The names of Nebo, Zebulin and Zimri Gaunt are mentioned, and they could have been sons of Samuel Gaunt. A "Nebo and Zimri Gaunt" witnessed a copy of a document dated October 23, 1776. It was a description of a Quaker meeting that said: "In this vintage might be seen the person of Samuel Gaunt, dressed with all the precision of a Quaker, but neat as a pin."
Oregonia first took the name Freeport in 1820, but when it was found that a town of the same name existed in Ohio, the name was changed, in 1845, to Oregon, thus becoming the name of the post office. However, refusing a name change, the railroad company used the name Freeport and the post office used the name Oregon. A compromise was made in the fall of 1882 through the efforts of Frank Sherwood and Dr. George W. Henderson, and the name Oregonia was adopted by both parties.
The first post office in Oregonia was established February 5, 1846, with William H. Hamilton as its first postmaster. Other postmasters up to December 8, 1882, when the name was officially changed to Oregonia were: Jonathan Sherwood, Daniel Robertson, John M. Dougal, Martin T. Ely and Francis Sherwood.
Oregonia seems to be a sleepy little community now, but at one time it was an enterprising little village. Beers History of 1882 states that "there are at present in the village one flouring mill, one saw-mill, two general stores [Sherwood's and Mason's], two blacksmith shops, a wagon-making shop, express and post offices, United Brethren Church [now the United Methodist Church, sometimes called the Unity Chapel] and a public school; Thomas C. Kersey and George W. Henderson, physicians, and twenty families."
Harris writes that: "David Kinsey built a carding mill in 1816, and about the same time a cotton factory was built by a company, the latter being burned in 1818. How long the carding mill was operated after the burning of the cotton mill is not known.
"James Van Horn had a blacksmith and auger factory and Elijah or Elisha Vance had a pottery business about 1820. Mark Armitage, a farmer, had an auger factory near by. A large frame was erected in 1844 for Charles Nixon to be used as a paper mill, but not being used for that purpose, the machinery was operated from some time for a barrel factory.
The settlement at Mather's Mill on the Little Miami, below Oregonia, was situated near the present Lebanon & Wilmington/Corwin Road. The date of this settlement was earlier than 1807, David Van Schoyck and Lewis Rees being there at that time. Rees built the mill in 1807; it was later sold to Richard Mather, who settled there the same year.
George Zentmire settled at this time some distance below the mill and built the dam for Mather. He was a Virginian of German descent, spoke the German language fluently and was a Revolutionary War soldier. His cabin was by a spring below the mill. In addition to the mill, Richard Mather set up a store and smith shop. He brought with him Jacob and Richard Ashmead as millers. Others coming the same season were: Jacob Horn, blacksmith; Jacob Longstreth, storekeeper; Samuel Couden; Irishman John Frazee and others.
John Bradbury, a native of England, came to Oregonia in 1873 and established a blacksmith and wagon shop, which he operated for 15 years. On January 1, 1888, he sold half interest to Thomas R. Spencer, and at that time the firm name was changed to Bradbury and Spencer. It was this year that the first bridge was sold. Steam power along with iron working machinery was later incorporated into the firm. Charles A. Spencer was taken into the company in 1895, and on May 28, 1896, the name was changed to the Oregonia Bridge Company. Capital stock for the newly formed corporation was set at $50,000 and the firm incorporated with John Bradbury as president; Charles A. Spencer, vice-president; and Thomas R. Spencer, treasurer and general manager. Because of the growth and expansion of the firm, it was moved to Lebanon in 1903.
Hazel Spencer Phillips wrote a short history on Oregonia. In it was enclosed a personal segment associated with her experiences in the little town. She writes:
"My father [Charles A. Spencer] worked hard every night to build the cupboards in the house, the out-house and the wood shed, and to saw out the pickets for the fence across the front to keep us in the yard. While thus engaged, a big iron crane swung around while unloading iron from a railroad car and the hood cut his lip badly. Auntie Fan came through the gate from her house every single day to dress the cut.
"I remember Uncle John Bradbury, and Auntie, who made lovely laces on a pillow, and Uncle John piling all of the Spencers into a hammock in the front yard at Uncle Tom's and swinging and singing until dark, all his English songs and an American favorite, 'While We Were Marching Through Georgia' - a good swinging song.
"At regular intervals the steam boiler at the shop had to be scraped and cleaned. My little Dad was elected to do this. As soon as the boiler was cool enough, we would all troop across the tracks and stand by with lighted lanterns until he emerged safely again. "The first telephone was installed in the shop and we all listened and talked over the miracle.
"Then each noon and night, when the steam whistle blew, all the little Spencers trooped up the path to the steps of Sherwood's store, never beyond the steps, to wait for our fathers.
"Sherwoods will forever be associated in my mind, not for the mail from the post office or the sweets from their store, but for the long beans and the heavily scented blooms of the catalpa trees which we gathered while we waited there.
"I remember a fish so big they could hardly squeeze it into a big washtub. I remember a large white crane, spread out on Mother's black silk petticoat for a picture made by Mabel Sherwood.
"I remember the wonderful music by the Oregonia band, wafted over the evening air as they practiced somewhere nearby.
"I remember the echoes from a cannon made by my Dad, fired from the hill back of town in a salute to a black-draped funeral train, probably McKinley's.
"I remember Dr. Kersey, calling us to the fence, with hands filled with tiny, tiny bottles for our dolls; Uncle Tom's milk cow on the hill; the old concord coach, minus the running gears; in the barn yard where we played traveling; the peddlers with packs on their backs; tramps begging food at our doors; and always in the silence of a small rural village, the sound of the horse's hoofs on the wooden floor of the bridge."

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