The South Fairmount Project / Lick Run (Part 2)
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
South Fairmount and surrounding areas in 1869.
For land speculators like John Cleves Symmes and Israel Ludlow the peace that followed the victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794 did not come soon enough. The greatest obstacle to the growth and development of the Miami Valley, the constant threat of raids, now gradually gave way to peace, stability and a growing population. The feeling of stability was further magnified with the conclusion of the War of 1812, once and for all ending concern about the British threat in Canada.
THE TOWNSHIP SYSTEM
Ludlow’s work for the Surveyor General of the United States completed back in May of 1792 was based on the Land Ordinance of 1785 providing for an efficient and effective means of organizing the vast block land north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi known as the Northwest Territory for sale and governance. The entire Territory was surveyed into grids of six mile by six -mile townships that were furthered broken into 36 square blocks of 360 acres called sections, each for sale.
Lick Run, as the valley came to be known, was designated by Ludlow’s system, primarily as sections 25 and 31 located in township three of fractional range two of the Symmes’ Purchase with the western end of valley spilling over into section one of the neighboring township two. In 1809 the townships were officially named Mill Creek and Green Townships and given limited governing authority over local affairs by the Hamilton County Commissioners.[i] The growing population of these townships finally warranted some degree of self- rule by 1809, though large swaths of both, including Lick Run, remained a sparsely populated wilderness and continued to be so for almost another decade. There were only 188 individuals paying property taxes in all of Mill Creek Township’s 36 square miles in 1811, most of whom resided in Clifton, Walnut Hills or along the Mill Creek bottom land.[ii]
SOUTH FAIRMOUNT REMAINS A WILDERNESS
With little flat land and steep heavily wooded hillsides, the valley was viewed as having limited agricultural potential. This combined with substantial acreage north and west Cincinnati better suited for farming kept the Lick Run virtually empty of residents through the 1820’s. It is likely the first true inhabitants of Lick Run were squatters living a pioneer existence much like a “mythical lone trapper” named James Smith. Dr. Reese Kendall, an early resident and chronicler of Green Township’s history, described Smith as living in an area known as the “Beech Flats “ on the hilltops above the valley’s west end near present day Cheviot. Smith was probably drawn to the isolated location by a freshwater spring that bubbled out of the ground there. Kendall wrote, Smith “cared for the human race only to exchange his peltries for powder, lead and traps” describing his home as “a mere pile of logs with oak bark covering.” Smith he noted, left the area when another pioneer sort, Jacob Johnson, arrived in 1800 with his family -- Smith preferring the isolation and company of his “own unusual kind”.[iii] The area was so sparsely isolated that bears still roamed the hillsides with an actual attack reported on the daughter of another resident of the Beech Flats in 1815. Her dog, Kendall reported, held off the “beast” until her brother arrived and shot the animal. [iv]
Little evidence of who the earliest residents of Lick Run exists. Many of the region’s earliest residents like Smith the trapper, were squatters with no legal claim to the land other than the fact they occupied it, meaning there is no record of their existence. Legal ownership creates research opportunities for historians in the form of tax records, bills of sale, and titles among other things that don’t exist for squatters. To those with a financial stake and legal claims on the land like the Federal government and John Cleves Symmes, squatters created a quandary. For the region to grow and develop which in turn made the sale of the land more profitable they needed hardy settlers willing to make a go of it, but many of these very same people came west because they were cash and land poor and could not afford to buy property. Symmes however, nor the federal government wanted to give away their most valuable asset - land. From the squatter’s perspective land like the vast tract in the valley was unoccupied wilderness, there for the taking. After the victory at Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville, homesteading in an isolated corner of the wilderness was not nearly as dangerous, enticing more to live further from the safety of Cincinnati. Unless a land dispute ended up in court creating a judicial record, identifying these squatters today is difficult at best, leaving many of the region’s early pioneers forever anonymous. Adding to the difficulty of identifying the earliest residents of the valley was the destruction of census records from 1800 and 1810 when the British burned Washington DC during the War of 1812. Additionally, a fire destroyed the North Bend home of Symmes in 1810 eliminating many of his personal papers and copies of business transactions further complicating the task.
The existence of those like Smith and Johnson is only known because Dr. Kendall was acquainted with them. Kendall’s father, also a physician, arrived in Cincinnati in 1827. A New Jersey native and veteran of the Revolution, Kendall senior preached in his spare time, often to the residents of the Beech Flats.[v] Born in 1829, the younger Kendall grew up among the earliest arrivals in and around the valley, making his book The Pioneer Annals Of Greene Township In Hamilton County Ohio, written in 1893 one of the rare sources on the earliest residents of the region.
According to Kendall, Jacob Johnson settled in the Beech Flats in 1800 building a two story log cabin for his family that included five children. With few roads existing outside of Cincinnati’s city limits, it was said Symmes hired Johnson to cut a road from the Mill Creek to Harrison near the Indiana border, a route that began at the eastern end of the valley climbing to the northern ridge above it. Dr. Kendall notes that it was long claimed that Symmes gave a large portion of Green Township’s section nine as payment to Johnson for the work though “no records show he (Johnson) possessed any real estate” in the township.[vi] However, Symmes was known to informally make land transactions that were never legally recorded, creating confusion compounded by the fire that destroyed his home and private papers. Not surprisingly as the speculators with legal title to the land sold their holdings, conflicts occurred. In some cases the squatters quietly moved on while in others cases it meant litigation.
Among the earliest known land owners actually residing in Mill Creek Township was Clark Bates. His real estate acquisitions stretched from the northern ridges of the valley in present day North Fairmount down into the bottom lands of the Mill Creek. Oral tradition has Bates living on the land as early as 1798. Land in the valley was bought and sold on a regular basis often by owners who probably never lived there, for example section 31. Symmes originally purchased all 640 acres of section 31 from the federal government and subsequently sold it to Luther Halsey and Nathan Baker among others, neither of whom ever appear to have lived in the valley or even in Mill Creek Township. Halsey like many of the early land owners in the region was a New Jersey native like Symmes and veteran of American Revolution as well as being a member of the Society of Cincinnatus, a fraternal organization of Revolutionary War veterans. His land purchase was nothing more than an investment. He lived in New York and New Jersey his entire life though he died while making a visit to Cincinnati in 1829.[vii] Halsey sold the land to his daughter Sarah and her husband Nathan Baker. It also appears the Bakers never resided in Lick Run though they may have had an interest in the valley’s lumber potential, with Nathan owning a lumber yard on Eight Street in Cincinnati.[viii] The valley’s wooded hillsides were only a few miles from the city, where timber was in high demand as a commodity that could be shipped down the Ohio River to New Orleans. In fact, David Vanblaricum who bought a portion of the Baker’s section 31 holdings, may have done so for just that purpose. Among other things Vanblaricum built flatboats which he loaded with corn and flour produced from his mill on the nearby Muddy Creek, for shipment to New Orleans where the boats were broken up and sold for lumber.[ix]
EARLY GERMAN IMMIGRANTS
By the 1830’s a small hamlet sprang up near the western end the valley. Nothing more than a collection of small farms largely populated by German immigrants, it was typical of the numerous villages growing up in the hinterlands around Cincinnati. The region’s geography of hills and valleys created a fabric of small communities both isolated and limited in size by Southwestern Ohio’s terrain. This new hamlet was located along the natural corridor cut by Lick Run Creek to the western expanses of Hamilton County. It grew up on the last gently slopped wide bend of the corridor before the valley sharply increased in grade into a substantial burden for those who had to trudge up the hillside to reach highland communities in Green and Delhi Townships. Hilltop settlements like these and the Beech Flats, later part of Cheviot, were cut off from Cincinnati and the Ohio River by the considerable hills ringing the city. While daily or weekly trips to Cincinnati, only a few miles away, were not impossible, the hills certainly made such commutes on foot or by wagon burdensome and undesirable over roads that resembled wide a footpath. One such hill towering over the valley, West Price Hill, is considered the highest elevation in the county. Geography clearly has played a role in Cincinnati becoming a city of neighborhoods.
Settled by people like Francois Joseph Freyss, a stone mason from Marlenheim in Alsace-Lorraine, these unincorporated communities were made up of farmers seeking business opportunities and cheap land. Freyss who Americanized his name to Joseph Fries, bought 35 acres of section 31 in the late 1830’s stretching from Lick Run Creek up the southern hillside of the valley. He and his wife Maria ( Oehler) raised six children on their Lick Run farmstead, portions of which remained in the family for more than a 100 years.[x] Much like the Fries family, Jacob and Josepha Metz were also recently arrived immigrants, who lived the same kind of semi-subsistence lifestyle in which the family consumed much of what they produced on their farm while sending the excess to public markets in Cincinnati.[xi] With their landholdings generally ranging from a few acres to no more than 40 acres, the valley’s farmers could hardly be viewed as prosperous. They were not the type of farmers associated with agriculture today raising a single specialty cash crop like wheat or corn. Instead, it was farming on a much smaller scale, growing a broad range of fruits and vegetable more suitable for the confines of Lick Run’s geography.
Fries and Metz landholdings along Lick Run by 1869.
Typically referred to as gardeners, the valley’s farmers produced a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables – peas, turnips, cabbage and strawberries planted in March, followed by potatoes in early April with asparagus and water melon at the end of the month. Indiana melons, string beans, cucumbers and corn were planted after the soil warmed while blackberries were harvested in July and apples in September. With the city only a few miles away on flat roads, the valley’s farmers like Joseph Fries could manage regular trips to city markets with produce several times a week. This was just one of the ways Lick Run’s proximity to Cincinnati was the valley’s greatest asset.
As Cincinnati’s population explosively grew from 1830 (24,000) thru 1860 (161, 044), a growing percentage of the city’s population worked for wages in a variety commercial and business ventures, making them dependent on Cincinnati’s farmer’s markets for food. Lick Run benefited from the growing demand providing produce, dairy and meat to the markets only a few miles away. Dairymen like Peter Thinnes who also immigrated from the Lorraine region of France, increasingly made Lick Run their home. Living on a four acre plot along Lick Run Road ( at 2347 Queen City in 1842) Thinnes raised dairy cattle on 40 acres he leased at the top of Quebec Avenue.[xii]
By 1830 there were four public markets serving Cincinnati only a few miles from Lick Run on relatively flat roads; the lower market between Sycamore and main Streets, the upper market on Fifth Street between Main and Vine, western market on Sixth Street between Plum and Western Row, and the canal market on Court Street between Walnut and Vine Streets. An Englishman visiting Cincinnati in 1827 described the practical way farmers like Joseph Fries displayed the bounty of their labor.
"My first ramble on the morning after my arrival was to market at an early hour, where a novel and interesting sight presented itself. Several hundred wagons, with white canvas
[ tops ]and each drawn by three or four horses with a pole in a similar manner to our coaches , were backed against the pavement or footway of the market place, the tailboard or flap of the wagon turned down so as to form a kind of counter and convert the body of the carriage into a portable shop, in which were seated the owners amidst the displayed products of their farms, the whole having the appearance of an extensive encampment arranged in perfect order. It was the first time I had seen an American market and if I was surprised at the arrangement, I was much more so at the prices of the articles, as well as at their superior quality." [xiii]
These farmers survived by the sweat of their brow with no dependence on the wholesale price of agricultural commodities. Many like Joseph and Maria Fries were the last generation of their family’s to live as the small independent farmers that Thomas Jefferson believed should be the backbone of American society.
THE CREATION OF A NATIONAL MARKET Just as the Fries family established its farm in the late 1830’s, new developments in transportation signaled the beginning of the end of their simple farming life. Small family farms began a long slow slide into oblivion as agriculture both mechanized and specialized, while the broader economy developed into an national market instead of a patchwork of local and regional economies. In the Greater Cincinnati area the first step toward this began in 1811 with arrival of the first steamboat to visit Cincinnati, the New Orleans. The arrival of the New Orleans began a new era that integrated Cincinnati into the developing national market that saw the transformation of the American West into agricultural power house. Prior to this, geography prevented the creation of a truly national economy with the Appalachian Mountains effectively cutting the lower Midwest off from the East and the one way traffic of the Ohio/Mississippi river system limiting the economic ties between cities like Cincinnati and the West. By the middle of the 1830’s more than 350 steamboats were the plying the western water ways with many operating out of Cincinnati as a home port, allowing for fast and efficient navigation both up and down river. It however, was not just steamboats that contributed to the city's role in the creation of a national economy, it was also an emerging nexus for canal traffic, and tied to a new network of turnpikes.
The Eire Canal completed in 1825 set off a canal building boom across the country. In Ohio and Southeast Indiana a network of canals was constructed in the 1830’s and early 1840’s linking tributaries of the Ohio like the Little Miami, Great Miami and Whitewater with the Ohio River in the south and Lake Eire in the north. The net effect of this transportation revolution was the growing reach of Cincinnati’s economy into the South and the Northeastern regions of the nation. These connections represented the birth of a new economy that was national in scope.
CANALS OF OHIO - COURTESY OF THE OHIO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Charles Cist, a Cincinnatian who chronicled the city’s growth in 1841, also recognized the importance of new turnpikes to the growth and development of Cincinnati’s economy. A spider web of roads reached out to smaller towns occupying the rich farmland in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. The Harrison Turnpike on the northern edge of Petersburgh reached out some 20 miles west of the city to Harrison, Ohio. The Lebanon–Springfield road ran to the northeast 40 miles to the thriving town of Lebanon while also tying into Springfield and the National Road, creating a valuable link to the state capital of Columbus. To the south ran the Covington-Georgetown-Lexington pike expanding Cincinnati’s reach into the Bluegrass state. Cist noted that in addition to these important roads, 13 others led indirectly to Cincinnati making it an important collection point for the crops and livestock raised in the fertile lands surrounding it. [xiv]
CINCINNATI'S NEW ECONOMY
Many of Cincinnati’s early industries developed around the bountiful supply of livestock surrounding it. Slaughter houses fed tanneries and shoe makers as Cincinnati became the pork capital of the nation, which in turn made soap and candle manufacturing possible with a steady supply of lard. The market for these goods was no longer limited to the city or even regionally to the West. Now corn , wheat, shoes and all the other goods produced in the city could be shipped north through a combination of rivers and canals to the Great Lakes and then to New York City and beyond, via the Eire Canal and Hudson River. Commercial ties with the South also grew as Cincinnati became the second largest manufacturing center in the United States, behind only Philadelphia, supplying the largely agricultural South with manufactured goods carried by steamboats up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
The growth and development of the national market was slow and haphazard over the three decade period stretching from the early 1830’s through the 1860’s, chipping away at the ability of Joseph and Maria and the other families of Petersburgh to live a simple agricultural existence on their small farms. The transformation of the nation’s economy into a national market permitted and indeed encouraged large scale specialization in agriculture for which Lick Run was unsuited. The valley's salvation however, was its proximity to both the city basin and the gentle rolling uplands of Green Township and the rich soil of more distant and communities like Harrison.
( Look for Part 3 of my South Fairmount Project next month. )
[i] History of Hamilton County, p.522-525. Prior to this Mill Crrek Township was governed by a combination of Springfield Township and the city of Cincinnati.
[ii] Marjorie Dickore, Mill Creek Township, Hamilton County, 1960. The census material from 1790 thru 1810 was destroyed when the British burned Washington D.C. during the War of 1812 making property tax rolls though not an accurate means of determining the exact population of Mill Creek Township a necessary alternative for estimating population.
[iii] Reese P. Kendall, Pioneer Annals of Greene Township, Hamilton County Ohio, San Jose, California, 1905, pg. 109.
[iv] Kendall, pg. 111. The girl was a daughter of Enoch Carson, one of the earliest known settlers of Green Township.
[v] Kendall, page 46.
[vi] Kendall, p.44-45.
[vii] New York Observer, March 20, 1830, death notice.
[viii] Cincinnati Business Directory, Charles Cist, 1843, p. 26
[ix] Kendall, p.96.
[x] Family history. Their first child, George ws born in 1838 followed by John( 1840)and four more children, Barbara (1842), Mary (1845), Martha (1847), and Francis (1849).
[xi] Metz Family History website, Joseph and Josepha Metz immigrated from Hayna in the Bas Rhin region of France in 1837 arriving at New Orleans. They along with his mother Eva brother Joseph, and brother-in-law Jacob Weiler bought 45 acres in the valley just to the north of Petersburgh which they later divided into three fifteen acre plots. In 1847 they bought another 22 acre plot.
[xii] Achievement : Cincinnati’s Western Hills, p.24.
[xiii] Henry and Kate Ford, History of Cincinnati Ohio With Illustrations, (LA Williams Publishing Co., 1881), 398 – 400.
[xiv] Cincinnati Business Directory, Charles Cist, 1843, p. 26