Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Lexington and Brief History of Conneaut Township

Contributed by Andy Pochatko


SERVING A PROGRESSIVE COMMUNITY WITH A MODERN WEEKLY NEWSPAPER FOR SEVENTY YEARS

THE COSMOPOLITE HERALD

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Every Thursday Afternoon Girard, Erie Co., Pa., Thursday, November 18, 1937 Seventy-First Year

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Not a Vestige Left of the

Old Town of Lexington,

Conneaut Township

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(By John Kelley)

(Continued from Last Week)

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Conneaut township, which lies in the extreme southwestern part of Erie county, takes its name from the Indian word, "Co-ney-ought," meaning many fish, according to Henry Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio. Other historians say it signifies "snow place" in the Indian language. It is one of the original sixteen subdivisions of the county and contains about 25,000 acres.

Prior to 1835 the north line of Conneaut township was about a mile farther south than it now is. In the year mentioned Conneaut ceded that portion of its territory lying north of Conneaut Creek to Springfield, on condition that the latter township pay one-half the expense of maintaining bridges along the boundary.

The Pennsylvania Population Land Company, which was formed at Philadelphia in 1793, purchases several large tracts in Erie county with the object of selling at a profit and inducing settlement. As representative of the company Colonel Dunning McNair, in charge of the corps of surveyors, came to the southwest part of the county in 1797 and made a head-quarters station at the big bend of Conneaut Creek, which has long been known as the Sawdy place. The colonel had visions of a populous community in the near future, and he laid out 1,600 acres into town lots. The place was called Lexington by one of the surveyors, who was from Lexington, Ky.

Being the center of the land company's operations in the western part of the county, Lexington got an early start toward the realization of Col. McNair's "castles in the air." At one time it boasted a distillery, general store, hotel, blacksmith and shoeshops, schoolhouse, several residences and a post office.

But, for some unknown reason veil days came upon Lexington, and not a vestige of the once thriving hamlet is now left. Its site is covered by farm lands, most of which is under cultivation. The name "Lexington" appears on old maps, but that was long ago, when the had a "pust uffice."

Albion borough, the most populous place in Conneaut township, began to primp up about the time Lexington started on the wane. It lies two or three miles south of the old site of Lexington, and with its varied industries is one of the best towns in the county. With construction of the Bessemer railroad about fifty years ago it received an impetus, and today Albion is one is one of the liveliest burgs in the Keystone state.

The distinction of being the first settler of Conneaut township is accorded to Jonathan Spaulding, a native of Vermont, who, its is shown by family records, came to Erie county in 1795. Among others who took up lands in Conneaut before 1800 were Abiather and Elihu Crane, brothers from Connecticut, Matthew Harrington, from Vermont, William Randall, from New York state, and John Salsbury, from Vermont. Elihu Crane remained only a year or two, removing to Elk Creek township, where he took up the tract on which Cranesville stands. His brother, Abiather, who was surveyor in the employ of Col. McNair, removed to Millcreek township, west of Erie.

The Griffeys, the Kennedys, the Balls, the Keeps, the Brandishes and the Jackson also were early settlers of Conneaut. Lyman Jackson and his son, Michael, settled on the present site of Albion borough. In early days it was known as Jackson's Cross Roads, also Jacksonville. The original post office was called Juliet.

"The pioneers of the township" says a writer in the Historical Atlas of Erie County, published in 1876, "were a long time isolated from the world, and no person, at present time, can have any idea of the privations they had to endure. Their chief supplies of meat were deer and game. Mills were nearly out of reach, a cavity cut in the top of a stump and heavy wooden pestle attached to a spring-pole, was the simple but laborious machine for reducing corn to meal. Maple sugar could be had in abundance by making it, but tea and coffee were almost unobtainable luxuries."

The first white children born in Conneaut township were Ruth and Eliza Crane, both of whom were born on the same day in the same house, near the old town of Lexington. Ruth was the daughter of Elihu Crane and Eliza the daughter of Abiather Crane. These two cousins were born on April 20, 1799. Ruth married Isaac Pomeroy and Eliza married James Love of Millcreek Township.

One of Conneaut township's best remembered pioneers was Capt. David Sawdy, who in 1819 purchased the old site of the town of Lexington and settled thereon. Born in Rhode Island about the close of the Revolutionary war, his parents removed to New Bedford, Mass., where David at the age of 17 embarked on a whaling voyage to Newfoundland. He followed this calling for a few years and then engaged in the mercantile trade with the East Indies. Gradually he rose to the rank of captain and was owner of his own ship, the Nancy Belle.

At the commencement of the second war between Great Britain and the United States he sailed to Sweden and loaded his ship with iron and steel, two articles which were greatly needed by the American forces. They would have yielded him an immense profit if he had reached his destination. Off the coast of Scotland his ship sprung a leak and he was compelled to put into the port of Glasgow for repairs. The ship and cargo were confiscated and Capt. Sawdy and his crew were thrown into prison. Upon being released, after several months incarceration, Sawdy returned to New Bedford and married Zervia Smith, a Quakeress. He kept a dry goods store in New York state for a few years before coming to Conneaut township.

In 1820 he opened a general store at Lexington, which supplied the wants of the early settlers. He was appointed postmaster in 1823, the year of its establishment at Lexington, and held the office until it was removed to Pomeroy's Corners. Later this post office was moved to Jackson's Corners and was eventually called Albion.

Captain Sawdy was elected to the legislature in 1837 and county commissioner in 1841.

The first saw mill in Conneaut put up in Conneaut was put up by Michael Jackson and the first grist mill by Amos King. Both were constructed before 1830. W.H. Gray erected a woolen mill in 1840 which was subsequently was owned and operated by Thomas Thornton, a cousin of Thomas Thornton who for many years was proprietor of Girard Woolen Mills on Spring Run, Elk Park.

The first tavern to open its doors in Albion was erected by Benjamin Noyes in 1828. It soon passed into the hands of William Sherman, who was its landlord for more than forty years. He was succeeded by his son Mott Sherman, a popular boniface.

This installment would be incomplete without special mention of George Griffey, a native of Wales, who was the first Welshman, it is said, to settle in Erie county. He came to America about the year of 1800 and in 1802 married Catherin Hook of Pittsburgh, daughter of a wealthy German. The bride's father gave her $1,000 as a wedding gift (which was a lot of money in those days) and with it Mr. Griffey purchased one thousand acres of land near Conneaut Creek. Clinton G. Griffey, a grandson of George, was owner and publisher of the Girard Union back in Civil war days. He sold the paper to Dan Rice in 1864 and went to Titusville oil field, where he established a daily paper at Petroleum Center. He removed to Michigan many years ago and became prominent in politics and as a newspaper publisher. He died a few months ago, aged 95.

In looking through old files of the Erie Gazette the other day I ran across the following advertisement, which was dated October 20, 1831:

"Notice--Proposals in writing will be received until November 14 next for opening a road through the lands of Stephen Girard Esq., in Conneaut township, a distance of three miles and 316 perches, also for building a saw mill on the west branch of Conneaut Creek near where the road proposed to be opened crosses the same."

The notice is signed by George A. Elliot, an Erie attorney.

Readers of these sketches of Western Erie County will be interested to know that a woman who was born in Conneaut township 106 years ago is still alive and enjoying fairly good health. She is Mrs. Calista Fowler, who for a quarter of a century has been a resident of the Old People's Home at Elgin, Ill.

Mrs. Fowler (whose maiden name I do not know) was born on August 26, 1831. In 1847 the family removed to Illinois, settling at Batavia, where Calista married Milo C. Fowler five years after her one-hundredth birthday, the Chicago Tribune has printed on each recurring anniversary a "story" of her great longevity. On the occasion of her 105th birthday, he niece Mrs. Laura Russel Egan, of Elgin, presented a house to Grace Methodist Church, which is called the Russel-Fowler Memorial parsonage.

Mrs. Fowler has been a widow eighty-one years.

 


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