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AREA HISTORY OF NORTON, OHIO
Copy Note: Much of this article is reprinted from the 1968 Norton Sesquicentennial Booklet.
Reprinted With Updated Changes by Claude Collins, 2003.
WHAT THEY SAW
Based upon recorded history, we do not know the name of the first white person who ever looked over the area now known as the City of Norton. We do know the Mound Builders traversed most of this part of Ohio, even before the American Indians. They have left their trademarks in many parts of Northern Ohio in the form of their earthen mounds. An Indian tribe called the Eries are among the earliest Indian tribes recorded as having roamed over much of Northern Ohio. Indian tribes could travel along the shores of Lake Erie much easier than through the dense forests which covered much of the Ohio country. In their travels the Indians could paddle up the Cuyahoga River south to the ridge of the Great Divide, later known as Portage Path, from which they carried their canoes across the divide to the head of the Tuscarawas River. It was only a few miles from the Cuyahoga to the Tuscarawas River and once on this stream, they could paddle a canoe on down to the Muskingum, then to the Ohio River which followed on to the Mississippi and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. Since the Tuscarawas River starts at the southern edge of Norton, parts of our present Village were probably traversed by many fur traders and explorers.
The great explorer DeSalle, who made a trip from Lake Erie up the Cuyahoga River, then across the divide to the Tuscarawas and south through the Ohio Country in 1669, could be the first white man who ever saw a part of our territory. DeSalle reported to France about the wonderful lands south of Lake Erie stretching southward to the Ohio River.
Recorded information points out that our present City was founded on some of the finest land in what was later called the Western Reserve.
THESE ARE OUR LANDS
After DeSalle reported to France about his discoveries in the Ohio country, the French laid claim to all this land. But, for many years the French were unable to establish trading posts. Hostile Indian tribes prevented them from doing this and for the next 125 years this part of Ohio changed owners many times due to wars between the French, the Indians and the British, who also tried to lay claim to it. Some of the original thirteen colonies did much dickering with the Indians for title to this part of Ohio. After 1750, the French began erecting forts along the shores of Lake Erie and soon had forts stretching all the way to the Ohio River. The British in retaliation started a big stockade at the spot where the Allegheny and the Monogahela Rivers joined above what is now Pittsburgh. On April 17, 1755, the French swept into this stockade and captured it and then renamed it Fort Duquesne. This started off the long bloody French and Indian War. In the fall of 1758, the British recaptured Fort Duquesne, and renamed it Fort Pitt. After a few more reverses suffered at the hands of the British, the French surrendered on September 8, 1760, and the title to the great area south and west of Lake Erie was now British territory. This land in the next few years became the property of the State of Connecticut.
However, there was to be many more years of fighting before the State of Connecticut was able to do anything about disposing of her vast Empire in Northern Ohio. Connecticut claims grants were so vague from the British that there were many disputes still to be settled with New York and Pennsylvania. Congress also entered this dispute and asked the colonies to relinquish their claims and give all the lands in the West to the Federal government to be divided for the good of all. Finally in 1786, Congress agreed to let Connecticut have the lands claimed and soon the Western Reserve was to be a reality. This area between lake Erie on the north and the 41st parallel on the south and stretching from the Pennsylvania line to Sandusky Bay, containing up to 3,500,000 acres, was now ready to be surveyed and laid out in townships. The early surveyors had a rough time laying this area out so that plots could be described and staked out for sale to early settlers. The dense forests covering our area made it hard to find survey stakes once they were marked out.
The current City of Norton was originally a part of Wolf Creek Township along with Copley, Wadsworth, Sharon, Guilford, and Montville townships. Wolf Creek Township was organized in 1816 and at an election held in April of that year, Henry Van Hyning, Sr. and Salmon Warner were chosen the first Justices of the Peace. Philemon Kirkham was elected Town Clerk. Nathan Bates, Jacob Miller and Abraham Van Hyning were elected Trustees. Twenty-two votes were polled at this first election in a precinct whose boundaries covered 150 square miles. In 1818, Norton Township was organized. It had been surveyed eight or nine years previous to this by Joseph Darrow and plotted into lots half a mile square numbering from the west to the east, thus the west lots were 1, 11, 21, 31, 41, 51, 61, 71, 81 and 91 to the southwest corner.
Norton Township was Town 1, Range 12 in the Western Reserve. At its formation, Norton was named after Birdseye Norton, one of the original owners of the township. It was formed into an independent township in the spring of 1818; and at an election held on the first Monday of April, Joseph D. Humphrey was elected Town Clerk; Abraham Van Hyning, Ezra Way and Charles Lyons, Trustees. Among the Supervisors of Highways for that year, of whom there were five, were the names of Joseph Homes, Elisha Hinsdale and John Cahow. Henry Van Hyning Sr. was justice of the peace.
Probably the first purchase of land in Norton was made by James Robinson. He purchased Lot 19, and in 1810, built a hut on it. It seems, however, that he did not make this his permanent home. About the same time that Robinson came to Norton, John Cahow settled on lot 20, about a half-mile east of Robinson’s place and erected a log cabin. It is a matter of some dispute, whether Robinson’s or Cahow’s house was the first one built in the township.
Construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which began in 1827, allowed improved North-South boat travel options until its abandonment in 1913. Electric trolley lines were installed from Barberton to Wadsworth through Norton in 1905 and interconnected Norton Township to other lines throughout Northern Ohio.
Norton's population remained small until after 1900. In 1920 it increased to 2,935. By 1940, it had risen to 4,204. By 1950, the population had grown to 7,454. In 1980, the population peaked at over 12,000, but dropped slightly in 1990 to 11,452. The 2000 census estimated the population at 11,523.
FROM EARLY PIONEERS TO INDUSTRIAL GIANTS
The very early pioneer residents of Norton found that there were many problems to just exist. First they had to have a roof over their heads, next they had to have a few acres of cleared land to grow the absolute necessities to live by and feed the few animals they brought with them if they were among the fortunate to bring some livestock with them.
But as soon as they had shelter and food, many early settlers set up some kind of little business, the income of which enabled them to live a little easier. Sawmills, gristmills, and tanneries, and blacksmith shops were the most important of the early industries in our village.
The first saw mill was built by Thomas Johnson at Johnson Corners in 1823. Early settlers were able to bring logs they cleared from their farms and have them converted into lumber to build barns and houses. The second saw mill was built by Hezchiah Ward on Hudson Run in the northwest corner of the township. In 1837, Nathan Seiberling built a large saw mill further down Hudson Run using, like all the other saw mill operators, water power derived from Hudson Run. At one time five saw mills were operating on Hudson Run.
The first gristmill in Norton was built at Johnson Corners by Thomas Johnson about 1830. A picture of this early mill is in this history. Clarks Mill was built about 1837, but burned to the ground in 1879.
The first tannery was opened at Western Star about 1830, and was operated by Lebbens Hoskinson. In 1835, another tannery was started at Bates Corners. The first blacksmith shop was opened by Samuel Baker who previously operated a similar shop in Stow.
These first little industries gave Norton area residents a place to get vital services performed. The proprietors and operators of these early saw mills, grist mills, etc. had to be men of much mechanical ingenuity as they didn’t have machine shops and parts facilities available and machinery had to be kept in operation with whatever could be improvised.
When Nathan Seiberling settled in Norton he brought with him some of the German ability to build something better mechanically. When he started his first saw mill he tried a new kind of saw, which was called a geared muley saw, so designed that it cut much faster than the saws used by other area mill operators. This put Mr. Seiberling in a very favorable competitive position amongst his competitors and he profited accordingly.
Six of Nathan Seiberling’s sons grew up on their father’s farm near Western Star and showed extraordinary mechanical ability. The oldest of these sons, John F. Seiberling, early turned his mechanical ability to inventing farm machinery. He invented his first reaper, the Excelsior, in 1859. In 1861, he patented the first dropper for a reaper and in 1862, he invented the side brace bar coupling. In 1870, he started a completely new line of mowers and reapers called the Empire. Our surrounding area by the 1880’s was fast becoming the farm machinery center of America.
Two of John F. Seiberling’s sons, Frank A. and Charles W. were born in the Seiberling home at Western Star and after serving an apprenticeship in their father’s various industries, struck out in the industrial world for themselves. In 1898, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was organized with Frank Seiberling as president and Charles W. as treasurer. By this time, Akron was beginning to change from a machinery and cereal manufacturing center to the rubber center of the world. Most of the early major rubber companies were establishing headquarters in Akron. Most of these rubber companies were plagued with financial and patent problems. Competition was fierce but the Seiberlings were to see Goodyear grow to one of the world’s largest rubber companies in the next 20 years. After the financial difficulties of the early 1920’s the Seiberlings started the Seiberling Rubber Company in Barberton.
While the Seiberlings born in the southwest part of Norton were building companies with branches all over the world, north of Loyal Oak on Reimer Road, another man was growing up who was destined to head some of the largest companies in the world in their fields. E.J. Young was born December 30, 1857, the son of Charles Young who had come to the Loyal Oak area as an early settler from Pennsylvania. As a young man Young taught school several terms and then studied music for a while at Oberlin College. After trying to give organ lessons and various clerking jobs, he became interested in the design of injectors. The enthusiasm and determination with which he worked served an important part in the phenomenal growth of the Ohio Companies in Wadsworth. Young’s companies got into the manufacture of injectors and valves, paper products, salt and matches. His Ohio Match Co. was destined to become the largest match plant in the world giving employment to many hundreds of person.
While the successes enjoyed by the Seiberlings and the Youngs were probably the most outstanding on our Norton area sons, many other have left their imprint on the business and cultural life of our area.
A NEW CITY IS BORN IN OUR MIDST
The Great Scioto Indian Trail ran through the Township from the northeast. Crossing Wolf Creek, the trail turned southwest to Johnson's Corners and continued southwest in an almost identical route to modern Wooster Road. Other early roads ran from Biglow Chapel to Wolf Creek and from Middlebury (in East Akron) through the center of our Township to Harrisburg in Medina County.
The Norton area was only lightly populated until after the War of 1812 when New Englanders relocated into the region followed by German settlers from Pennsylvania. Norton was not settled as early as some of the other townships in this area, but it soon outgrew most of them.
The census of 1840 listed Norton as having a population of 1,497 inhabitants. This is a phenomenal growth when you realize that twenty-five years before there were about four log cabins scattered over the 25 square miles, which later comprised our lands.
From 1840 to 1880, Norton Township’s population increased only by 569 people to a total of 2066. Up to this time, it was pretty much a quiet rural countryside made up of fine farms, many fine farm homes and seven hamlets or centers which boasted hotels, stores, etc. The seven hamlets were: Norton Center, Loyal Oak, Western Star, Hametown, Sherman, Johnson's Corners, and New Portage.
In 1890, all this was to change quickly. Messr’s Ohio Columbus Barber, Charles Baird, Albert T. Paige and John K. Robinson purchased a number of contiguous farms adjacent to the already established eastern Norton Township hamlet of New Portage. Their purchase was for the purpose of founding on these farms a new manufacturing city. This city was called Barberton after O. C. Barber, and thus began a new city partly inside the boundaries of Norton Township. In the center of this land development was a beautiful spring-fed lake at the time called Davis Lake. The name was later changed to Lake Anna, so named after O. C. Barber’s daughter.
New Portage already was a station stop on the Erie, and Cleveland, Akron and Columbus Railroads. It was a port on the Ohio canal and it was the south most terminus of the Portage Path which had been, probably for centuries, the aboriginal path or highway connecting Lake Erie and the great rivers flowing to the South. In a matter of one year, the rolling farm lands with their white houses and red barns were to almost completely disappear and in their place was platted the new city of Barberton.
The new city was not haphazardly thrown together like many towns experiencing overnight growth. Beautiful homes were being erected on the broad streets around the lake. Substantial business buildings were going up everywhere. Many factories were started along the railroads and even a new hotel, which could have been the envy of many older cities, was erected on the south shore of the lake.
Probably the main objective of the four previously named men, who organized themselves into “The Barberton Land and Improvement Company”, was to bring as much new industry as possible to the new city. By 1892, the National Sewer Pipe Co., with a capital of $250,000, and employing 200 men; the Kirkham Art Tile Co., capital $500,000, and employing 500; the American Strawboard Co., capital $6,000,000, and employing 200 men; the Sterling Boiler Co., with a capital of $500,000 and employing 300 men; the Creedmoor Cartridge Co., capital $500,000 and work force of 200; the American Alumina Co., capital $500,000, employing 50; and the United Salt Co., capital $1,000,000, and employing 150 men were all started in the new founded city now called the “Magic City”.
The Barberton Belt Line Railroad laid tracks around the town connecting these new industries with the trunk line railroads. In 1893, the great Diamond Match Company, which at that time was located in Akron, started a new factory in Barberton and the entire factory was soon moved to Barberton bringing with it a work force of nearly 1000 people. In the next few years the Columbia Chemical Co., with millions in capital and employing hundreds of men located in the southwest corner of Barberton. About this time the Pittsburgh Valve and Fittings Co. was added to the long list of Barberton’s industries. A city with such a diversified list of industries was in a much better position to exist than a city with one or two industries. In addition to all the industries Mr. Barber was interested in, he also bought a large area of land in Coventry Township, where he laid out one of the largest farming establishments in America, known as Anna Dean Farms. This farm boasted the largest dairy barn in the world and housed probably the greatest herd of registered Guernsey cattle ever housed under one roof. Many of these cattle were imported directly from the Guernsey Islands and represented the top bloodlines in the Guernsey breed.
Murne Cowan, the name given to a great registered cow in the Barber herd, was for many years noted as having given in one year more milk and butterfat than any other Guernsey. For many years the milk from this herd was bottled and delivered to Barberton residents directly from the farm. Anna Dean Farms was in operation from 1900 to 1925. It has given way to progress, but the names of the great Guernsey cows and sires will live as long as Guernsey cows exist in the record books of the Guernsey breed. So besides helping to build a great new city, Mr. Barber must always be remembered for the advancement he gave to American agriculture.
WHAT OUR EARLY SETTLERS DID FOR RECREATION
Some of us today, with our modern conveniences probably wonder how our ancestors spent their spare time. Actually pioneer families had very little time for recreation after they completed the everyday jobs that were necessary to exist. A pioneer farmer and his family had land to clear, log cabins and other buildings to construct, and crops to grow. They would never find time to go to the movies or to go golfing.
Our early families did not lack for things to do to take their minds off the problems of survival. Most of our early families were deeply religious and church on Sunday was a must. The churches helped to provide the women with sewing circles and quilting bees. The men could always stir up a ball game or pitch horseshoes. Early settlers always tried to help their neighbors especially at threshing time or if there was a barn to be built. It was not uncommon for a hundred men to assemble to build a barn in one day. Most of the time the women came along with picnic baskets.
When the little one-room schools were in session there were always spelling bees, debates, and box socials. Box socials always drew good crowds. The girls would fill a box with good things to eat and an auctioneer would bid the boxes off to the young man who would pay the highest price. His reward was the privilege to eat with the girl who brought the box.
In the winter, skating and bobsled rides were common entertainment. Family reunions and church and school reunions were always well attended. Young people and sometimes the older people too, always could have a square dance if there was a fiddler and a caller around. The early families probably had as much fun as we do today, but it never cost much.
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