Brownhelm Township Ohio: The Firsts

From February, 1817, until October, 1818, the town was a part of Black River. At the latter date, on petition of the inhabitants to the commissioners of Huron county, number six, the nineteenth range, together with the surplus lands adjoining west, and all lands lying west of Beaver Creek in number seven, in the eighteenth range - Black River - was organized into a separate township by the name of Brownhelm, a name selected by Colonel Brown. The first election for township officers was held at the house of George Bacon, in the spring of 1819. The vote was by ballot which resulted as follows: Anson Cooper, clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Levi Shepard, Calvin Leonard, and Alvah Curtiss, trustees; Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon, justices of the peace. That part of the present town of Black River lying west of Beaver creek was, in June, 1829, by order of the commissioners, detached from Brownhelm, and re-annexed to Black River.

The first justices of the peace in the township were Levi Shepard and Benjamin Bacon. The cases referred to their adjudication were few and simple. Sometimes it was found more convenient and economical to let an unusual rogue escape from the country, than to take him to the jail at Norwalk. It is related that a case of horse stealing once came before ’Squire Wells, of Vermillion. The culprit was a wandering preacher, but the evidence was strong against him. ’Squire Wells invited ’Squire Bacon to sit with him on the trial, to add weight to the court. The constables took the liberty of advising the prisoner to seek safety by flight, if during the progress of the trial a fair opportunity should appear. He seized the opportunity with great alacrity, and was followed with a shout, but not overtaken. The next day, ’Squire Bacon started for Cleveland, and spent the night at Dover. A preacher had come into town, and the people were gathering to hear him. Mr. Bacon went with the rest, and was surprised to see at the desk his horse-stealing acquaintance of the day before. He gave as his text “ Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” After the sermon, opportunity was given to any who wished to offer a word of exhortation. Mr. Bacon improved the opportunity by relating the occurrence of the previous day. The poor preacher started suddenly on his travels again, and at last amounts had not stopped.

The first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819. A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. In the autumn of the same year, an 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill just west of the Alverson's home. It was named Strut Street School. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. 

The first physician in town was Dr. Weed, who died in the earliest years. Then Dr. Betts, as having some knowledge of medicine, visited the sick when no other physician could be had. Next, Dr. Forbes took up his residence for a short time, occupying the place later belonging to Samuel Bacon’s family. When there was no resident physician, Dr. Baker, of Florence, later of Norwalk, was chiefly relied on, and sometimes Dr. Woleott, of Elyria. Dr. Samuel Strong commenced his practice in Brownhelm, and continued a few years. Drs. Willard, Wigton, Page, and Chapman later practiced there.

In general, the early families brought their medicine bags into the new country, and administered to afflicted children glauber salts, ealomel and jalap, rhubarb and senna, with entire confidence, not to speak of Wormwood, thoroughwort, and other more odious herbs and compounds. Thus the children were taken through chicken-pox, measles, and whooping cough, in comparative safety. The ague was sometimes “broken” with Peruvian bark, but the more popular treatment was to wear it out.

The disease most dreaded in the new country was the milk sickness, or, as it was generally called, the sick stomach, commonly supposed to originate in some poisonous herb eaten by the cattle, and to be communicated by the use of the milk. The disease was exceedingly distressing and malignant, and oftener fatal than otherwise. No part of the town was entirely exempt, but the disease was developed especially in certain localities. The Barnum place, near the old meeting house, was remarkably afflicted with it; and three stones, side by side in the burying ground, mark the graves of three Mrs. Barnums, all of whom died of the disease. One autumn, four members of their families died within a week. The place was at length deserted, and the precise locality has never since been occupied by a family.

Those sickly seasons were sad periods in the early history of the place. The little community was sometimes gathered to a double funeral, as once at Judge Brown’s, when Sidney Brown and Oliver Cooley died, and afterwards at Mr. Barnum’s. The latest calamity of the kind was in 1838, when the entire Campbell family, of five persons, died in the space of a month. But in spite of this scourge, the early settlers probably suffered less from sickness than is common in a new country, and the boon of health was gratefully included in the enumeration of blessings on thanksgiving day.

The first burial in town was that of a daughter of Alva Curtis, Calista, who died at Mr. Onstine’s, in Black River, before the family reached the Brownhelm line. She was buried first on Solomon Whittlesey’s place, afterwards in the burying ground near Mr. Bacon’s. The small brown stone that marks the grave was the only one in the ground for many years. long since disappeared.

The first birth was in the Holcomb family, on the south ridge - a son, Henry Brown Holcomb. Next, Lucy Cooper, and a month later, Enos Peck. George Cooper was born in Euclid and may very properly be considered the oldest Brownhelm boy.

The first wedding was probably that of Joseph Swift and Eliza Root, who were married on the South Ridge, August 22, 1818. Soon after Grandison Fairchild's arrival, in 1818, one of the Onstine young men came to borrow five dollars, and satinet enough for a pair of pants, giving as a reason that he was going to have a little frolic over in Vermillion. His frolic was his wedding. Among the earliest marriages was that of Ezekiel Goodrich and Charlotte Brown, on the lake shore. Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had “stuck their stakes.” These were the earliest visits to the east. At a later day, the married people singly, not in pairs, went back to visit their old home, going by steamer to Buffalo, and by canal to Albany, astonished to traverse in ten days the road that it had taken seven weeks to pass over in coming into the wilderness. This going back to Stockbridge was a great event - the hope of the older, and the dream of the children. The young man, putting on his freedom suit, must go to Stockbridge to give it an airing and to attain the consequence essential to sustain his manhood. When he returned, his young companions gathered around him as a distinguished traveler, to hear all he could tell of the wonderful land. In this respect, the experience of children brought up in the simplicity of the new country can scarcely be repeated at the present day.

The advantages of cultivated society, talked of by parents, but never seen by the children, made a powerful impression. The steepled church. back in the eastern home, wrought upon the imagination of the child, as it could not if an object of daily sight. The thought of the college, to one who had only seen the log school house, was material for castle building by day, and for dreams by night.
Brownhelm Historical Association
Preserving the Rich History of Brownhelm, Ohio

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