“They succeeded in securing the location [for the first railroad line] through the center of the township, within twenty rods of the stone that marks the center. The credit of this achievement belongs to Dr. Johns more than to any other. It was the turning point to the fortunes of the place. The road on either side would have blasted all village prospects, and where the village now is would have been four farms and nothing more” (History of Lorain County, Ohio, pg. 352).
In the 1880s, Wellington experienced a wave of nostalgia as one-by-one its remaining pioneers passed away. History of Lorain County, Ohio, published in 1879, sketched in vivid detail the first days of the fledgling settlement, now a thriving commercial center of the county. The Wellington Enterprise began to feature reminiscences written by, or captured through oral histories with, those who experienced the town’s founding firsthand. Though there is no photographic evidence of those early days, nor any drawings or etchings of the town from that period that I have found, I thought it might be fun to excerpt some of the descriptions.
In 1883, on the occasion of his sixtieth wedding anniversary, retired brickmaker Isaac Bennett was interviewed by the Enterprise on memories of his youth. He spoke of his birth in Vermont, his marriage to Esther Childs Bennett (b. 11-3-1801) of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1823, and their subsequent emigration to Wellington. They arrived on February 10, 1834. Bennett continued:
“At that time, the southeast quarter of the township was an unbroken forest, and in the northeast quarter there were but two small clearings. At the time we came to Wellington, there were but eight frame houses in the whole township. The American House was the first brick building erected in the township. The next was the old M. E. church, the brick for which was made by myself…Of the men and boys living now, when we came, there are now, Dec. 23, 1883, but three remaining, Dr. Johns, F. B. Manly and George Battles” (12-26-1883, pg. 3).
Dr. Daniel Jay Johns, mentioned in both the opening quotation and Bennett’s oral history, is something of a Wellington celebrity. Ernst Hines devoted an entire page, complete with photograph, to a profile of “Dr. Johns–Wellington’s One-man Chamber of Commerce” in his 1983 book, Historic Wellington Then and Now. Johns was the only doctor in the region for many years after he arrived in Wellington in 1818. He was reportedly the chief advocate for securing a rail line for the town and sold the right-of-way through his own extensive property to the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati railroad company for a single dollar, an act that sealed the deal for construction in 1849-50. Johns survived until 1886; he was eighty-eight years old when he died, and was mourned as the last of the village’s “founding fathers.”
Johns was also mentioned in the writings of J. B. Lang, whom readers of this blog may recall as the uncle of John Watson Wilbur. He was Wilbur’s first partner in the hardware business, but had many other accomplishments, including serving as Wellington’s mayor from 1870 until 1872. In the 1860s, Lang had acted as the Wellington correspondent to the Oberlin-based Lorain County News; he put his writing talents back to work twenty years later to produce a series of recollections for the Enterprise.
In one piece, Lang described in great detail traveling the “Corduroy roads”–made of unplaned logs laid side by side–from Huntington to Wellington in the 1830s. He noted every house he could remember along the way and recorded who lived there “then” in the 1830s and “now” in the 1880s. Here is an excerpt of the Wellington portion:
“We now come to the ‘city.’ The house known as the ‘Cottage Hotel’ was occupied by Judge Hamlin, who had a store where Dr. Houghton’s store now stand [sic], a large barn where B., L., W. & Co.’s store stands. John S. Reed had just built a house on the Benedict corner. M. DeWolf kept a temperance house on the Mallory, Price & Co.’s corner; a school house near where the American House stands; one house near where Tripp’s shop stands; Dr. John’s house near where the depot stands; an ashery near where A. M. Fitch’s store stands, and we have the ‘city’” (3-5-1884, pg. 4).
To translate that for modern-day residents of the town, Lang is guiding us up from the south, in a roughly clockwise direction around the town center. Judge Fredrick Hamlin’s establishment stood where the parking lot of the Farm & Home Hardware Store is today. Henes describes it as “a log building which he called the Cottage Hotel and which served as a store, home, postoffice, and meeting house” (pg. 7). Hamlin’s barn–then later, dry goods store Baldwin, Laundon, Windecker & Co.–was on the SW corner of the center, where coffee shop Bread & Brew conducts business. John S. Reed’s house was across what is now West Herrick Avenue, on the NW corner of the intersection; a Verizon store occupies the ground floor of the still-extant Benedict Building. DeWolf’s Temperance Tavern–a “dry” public house–was across Main Street, on the NE corner; Dimitri’s Corner Restaurant is in the ground floor of the twentieth-century building now standing there. The first village school, sharing a building with the first Town Hall, stood on the SE corner lot now home to Herrick Memorial Library.
J. B. Lang’s parents were two of Huntington’s earliest settlers, Ruel Lang (1801-1891) and his wife, Amy Hart Lang (b. 1805). Another of their children, daughter Esther, later married cheese magnate Charles Horr. Hardware store owner John Watson Wilbur was therefore related by marriage to Horr, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the village’s history. That is particularly interesting to me because of Noah Huckins‘ business associations with both men.
J. B. Lang also wrote about town life at mid-century. He noted that “a large part of the ground now occupied by Union Block, the Bank, Benedict’s Block, Doland’s Block and Roser’s Block was a low, swampy spot partly covered with alders, brakes and water.” Essentially, he is describing the entire northwestern corner of the downtown. John S. Reed was still the owner of that area and Lang claims that he made “a prophecy” around 1850 as follows: “This is a low, wet, forbidding spot, but some of us will live to see it covered with substantial brick buildings and the centre of a prosperous town” (The Wellington Enterprise, 3-12-1884, pg. 4). Lang notes that Reed did not live to see his own prediction come to pass, as he drowned while bathing in the Black River in 1855.
The last mention I have found of J. B. Lang appeared in a 1917 issue of the Enterprise. “We acknowledge a pleasant call from Mr. J. B. Lang on Friday. He is unable to walk and is wheeled about in a chair. Mr. Lang is in the 90′s and very feeble physically, although his mind is still quite clear and active. Mr. L. was born in Huntington township” (6-27-1917, pg. 3). The man who remembered Corduroy roads lived to see the age of flight and America’s entrance into World War I. Perhaps Dr. Johns should not get all the ancestor worship.