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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Beginnings Of Ridgeville

Dallas Bogan on 28 September 2004
The following is taken from Dallas Bogan's book, "The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow."
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

A Paper Read at the Centennial of the Village August 14, 1914.

Fergus McLean, a Pioneer on the Headwaters of Clearcreek, Begins a Clearing in the Spring of 1796, and in 1814 Lays Out On His Farm the Town of Ridgeville.

August 20, 1914

I am to speak of the beginnings of the little village whose centennial we celebrate.
Ridgeville, whose twenty town lots were surveyed and platted in 1814, was the fifth town in Warren county. The four older towns were Deerfield dating from 1795, Waynesville and Franklin from 1796, and Lebanon from 1802. All these were projected before Ohio became a state and of Warren a county. All were surveyed in the Northwest Territory. The pioneers in the Miami valley sought homes on farms rather than in towns, and for a dozen years four towns were thought enough for the new and rapidly growing county. But after Ridgeville was platted in 1814, new towns were rapidly projected in various parts of the county--Mason, Gainsboro and Springboro in 1815; Freeport (Oregonia), Morristown (Green Tree), and Roachester in 1816; Westfield (Red Lion), 1817; Fredericksburg, 1818; Crosswicks, 1821; and Edwardsville, 1824. Some of these have not yet been built, but the interesting fact is shown by our land records that in the twelve years preceding the beginning of Ridgeville no new town was platted in Warren county; in the ten succeeding years ten new towns were platted.
We must go back more than a century. One hundred and eighteen years ago the great task of clearing an unbroken forest was here begun. Fergus McLean was the pioneer whose ax first rang out in this region. He was the first occupying owner of the half section on which we are assembled and the original proprietor of Ridgeville. He was a Scotchman, but he came from North Ireland to America and was a militiaman in our revolution. After residing for some time in Morris county, N.J., he determined to remove westward. He remained a short time in Western Virginia whence he went to Jessamine county, Ky., and thence to the vicinity of Maysville, Ky. Having selected land on the headwaters of Clearcreek for his home, as early as the spring of 1796 he here began his clearing and planted a crop of corn before removing his family from Kentucky. His eldest son, then eleven years of age, assisted in this pioneer work and sometimes made the journey from the Ohio river to the clearing on foot, carrying his provisions with him. On account of the danger of Indians stealing horses, oxen were used in the new settlement.
Three McLean boys grew up on the newly cleared farm, all of whom lived successful lives. John, the eldest was the first lawyer of Warren county to reach distinction. He became a congressman, a judge of the supreme court of Ohio, a cabinet member, and was the first Ohio lawyer to become a justice of the supreme court of the United States. Nathaniel, the second son, was probably the first printer boy in Warren county; he became a newspaper editor and publisher, held lucrative and responsible offices in Ohio, and died a man of wealth in St. Paul Minn. William, the youngest, was a successful lawyer, receiver of public money at Piqua, and three times a member of congress. I know of no other three sons of an Ohio Pioneer who reached as high distinction.
Fergus McLean was a Presbyterian; his wife was a Baptist; his three sons all became Methodists.
Eighteen years after beginning his first clearing here this pioneer laid out on his farm at the crossing of two important roads a town which he named Ridgeville. When or by whom it was surveyed is not known, but its plat was taken to Lebanon and left for record on November 23, 1814. On the plat were twenty lots and three streets. The streets were called Main, Franklin and West.
When Ridgeville was platted the town site was in Wayne township, one of the original townships of the county. The next year, on October 17, 1815, the county commissioners created Clearcreek township and Ridgeville became the capital and voting place of the entire new township, and so continued for nearly forty years. Not until 1855 was Clearcreek divided into two precincts and Springboro and Ridgeville both made voting places.
Two years after the plat of Ridgeville was recorded the town became a post-office. It was the fifth post- office in the county. Within two years after Warren became a county its four oldest towns were made post- offices--Waynesville in 1804, Deerfield, Franklin and Lebanon in 1805. Eleven years elapsed before the next post-office was established here on October 1, 1816, with John Blair the first postmaster. The sixth one in the county was Springboro, March 3, 1821.
The earliest published description of Ridgeville I have found is in "The Ohio Gazateer of Topographical Dictionary" by John Kilbourn of Columbus, of which many editions were issued beginning in 1816. In the edition of 1819 is the following:
"Ridgeville, a pleasant post village in the northern part of Warren county, seven miles north of Lebanon and 70 southwest of Columbus."
This is found unchanged in subsequent editions except that the distance from Columbus is changed from 70 miles to 74. In 1833 is added the statement: "At the last census it contained 74 inhabitants." I find that just 50 years later, the census of 1880 gave the town exactly the same population. But the census returns of unincorporated towns are at best only estimates.
The compiler of this Gazateer employed various adjectives in describing the villages of Ohio. Some were "thriving;" in Warren county Lebanon was a "a flourishing post town," "Franklin a lively post town," Waynesville, "chiefly inhabited by Friends who have a large brick meeting house 80 by 40 feet." It is certainly a satisfaction to learn that during all the years of the publication of this valuable work, Ridgeville continued to be "a pleasant post village."
The first church in the Ridgeville precinct was the Clearcreek Baptist log meeting-house, one-half mile north of the site of Ridgeville, built about 1797, and believed to have been the first house of worship erected in Warren county. The earliest, the most active and for years the leading member of this church was Thomas Kelsey.
The first election in Warren county was held June 7, 1803. The voters had a short ballot; only two county officers were chosen--a sheriff and a coroner. George Harlan, a pioneer of this vicinity was elected the first sheriff of Warren county and Andrew Lytle of Deerfield, the first coroner. George Harlan was one of the earliest pioneers on the head waters of Clearcreek. He was repeatedly honored by the people of his county, serving as sheriff, representative in the legislature, associate judge and county commissioner. He is described as large and corpulent, and weighing over 250 pounds. His brother, Aaron Harlan, a lawyer in Greene county, represented the Warren district six years in congress. An inspection of the list of our county officers shows that in the early history of the county, the Ridgeville precinct furnished perhaps more than its due proportion of our county officials.
But I was not chosen to give the history of Ridgeville or the Ridgeville precinct. This centenary is appropriately made home coming and my youth having been passed in the southern part of our county I am not today one of the home-comers. I have endeavored to give from what I believe to be authentic sources some dates and facts pertaining to the beginnings of Ridgeville. I leave to others better qualified the most interesting and pleasing narration of incidents and reminiscences of the community which was once the home of many of those here assembled.

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This page created 28 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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