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 04-17, 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 09-08, 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 Birdsey 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.
Much of this article is reprinted from the 1968 Norton Sesquicentennial Booklet. Reprinted with updated changes by Claude Collins, 2003.