During a Parent Teachers Meeting (PTA) held on February 27, 1992, the history of Woodlawn was presented. It is hoped that this history will be kept on file at the Municipal Building for the use of any interested citizen. The slides used during this presentation are available from the Principal’s Office at Woodlawn Schools.
Woodlawn is situated in what was known as the Northwest Territory over 200 years ago. In 1785, the colonial government ordered its first survey of lands in the territory under the guidance of geographer Thomas Hutchins. Despite facing harassment from Indians, colonists began to push westward and establish small settlements along old Indian trails or traces. The territory was divided into sections and townships, with each township measuring six miles square and consisting of 36 sections, each containing one square mile or 640 acres.
In subsequent years, small fortified settlements or stations were established in Springfield Township. In spring of 1793, Luke and Zebulon Foster, Henry Weaver, John McCashen, and Zeba Wingert began establishing a settlement on Sections 9 and 10 within present-day Woodlawn’s boundaries. To the east on Section 4, Henry and John Tucker and Jonathan Pittman worked on a station which had been started but abandoned in the previous fall. For mutual protection, a blockhouse was erected on the west bank of Mill Creek between Sections 4 and 10 roughly where Riddle Road meets Pike today. There was a well-known spring there called Station Spring which served as a stopping place for early travelers. The new post or Woodlawn’s first real settlement was named Pleasant Valley Station.
During the late 18th century, the British were instigating Indian tribes to attack settlers in the Northwest Territory. To counter this threat, President Washington appointed Anthony Wayne as commander of the Army in the west in April 1792. In October 1793, Wayne began his campaign against the Indians in the area by following the old Indian trace now known as Anthony Wayne Highway. He and his men even stopped to eat pears under a large tree beyond Woodlawn’s southeast corner. The presence of Wayne and his troops reassured settlers at Pleasant Valley and other stations who then moved their families into the newly established Pleasant Valley Station without any serious trouble from Indians. This allowed for early development of our town without any setbacks.
One winter morning in 1793-94, James Seward descended to the spring near the station house and heard what he believed was a flock of turkeys nearby. He returned to meet Mr. Mahan who had been staying for several days and exclaimed, “If you’re looking for some turkey for supper tonight, I believe you can get one if you hurry out there now!” This amusing incident caused momentary unease at the time but proved all too fruitful in this unexpected way!
As Mahan marched up the Riddle Road, he heard a distant call that stirred him to alertness. He rushed to investigate when suddenly a tall Indian appeared from behind a tree no more than 20 yards away and sputtered in broken English “How do?” Startled by this unexpected encounter, Mahan dropped his gun and sprinted for the station houses with the Indians hot on his heels.
The men had sought to apprehend Mahan without arousing the station, so they refrained from shooting at him. Ultimately, he was able to escape and collapsed in front of the station house after running for an hour. After a period of unconsciousness, his body reacted with fever that left doctors doubtful if he would survive. Fortunately, even after enduring such trauma and shock ,Mahan recovered while also keeping the station unscathed.
Following the successful conclusion of Wayne’s campaign, new settlers flocked to Mill Creek Valley. By 1795, Springfield Township had been established and turnpikes were built along old traces for easy access from one settlement to another without trespassing. Thus road building quickly became a priority for early settlers as it allowed them – such as those here at Pleasant Valley -to move around freely with their teams of horses or wagons.
Historical court documents attest to the heated debates between settlers regarding which pathways required their utmost attention, with each able-bodied individual assigned a task in constructing roads. Typically, this involved expanding existing trails and laying down logs across marshy regions to form corduroy paths.
In 1806, a Mr. Van Dyke erected an inn on the ancient Wayne Trace where it took a sharp northwest turn through the township. His son-in-law, Colonel Harris, operated this establishment which is thought to be Ohio’s oldest inn today. Those embarking on trips from Cincinnati to Hamilton and Springfield would change horses at Century Inn -a simple one-roomed building in those days. Guests rolled out their blankets close to the hearth overnight while they stayed there after long journeys.
The inn was well-equipped to accommodate a large number of horses, boasting 200 stalls at any given time in the barns located behind it. People could also cast their ballots early through one of its windows! Additionally, there was an Indian Trading Post that operated near Pleasant Valley Station and some cabins scattered throughout the area in the early 1800’s.
Eventually, a grand stone house was erected by a brewery and run as an alehouse. It earned the name Old Stone Jug because it rivaled with the Century Inn for customers. The corner turned into quite a place to be, since there was even a toll gate manned by Mr. Waterhouse who charged two cents per person! Long after its heyday in the late 1800s, local folks still reminisce about this bustling corner spot fondly. From the comfort of his front porch, he observed passing traffic with a telescope and charged those who used the pike without passing through the gate. In 1881, ownership of Century Inn shifted from Van Dyke to Hartman and eventually came into John Arns’ possession. Today, it is operated by Mrs Brownfield – granddaughter of John Arns himself! Additionally, Ed Meagher’s blacksmith shop had its place across from the inn as well.
By 1857, the valley had seen an immense amount of progress due to the railway which cut through its countryside and opened up the land. This particular train line was known as the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad.
As the Civil War raged on, General Morgan and his raiders set forth northward to replenish their cavalry. The men took a respite at an old station spring, granting horses much needed rest and nourishment as they grazed in nearby pastures. At dawn’s lightening sky, Morgan continued on with those that accompanied him – history tells us just so. Nearly a decade after Morgan’s wild men made their appearance, the area now known as Woodlawn embraced the changing times. Men moved to this region in search of new places to settle and rebuild their lives following the Civil War. Then, in 1874, an innovative land company held an auction selling narrow houselots within 25 feet by 180 feet acreage sitting between Springfield Pike, Grove Road and Jones Road. On that day, two house lots were sold to Philip Herrier – the grandfather of Miss May Sharp known in Woodlawn. One lot had a log cabin on it while the other was an empty plot; however, he decided to construct a one room 1 and 1/2 story house typical of those days with a lean-to and cooking shed perched behind.
In 1876, the Brown Brothers – Thomas and George – established a stock firm titled Woodlawn Building and Housing Company. Shares were sold for $500 each to finance the division of 15 lots which included part of Tucker’s prior farm near an earlier station. The boundaries of Woodlawn Plat stretched from Pike Street in its western border all the way to Linden Avenue on its northern side, with Lovell (now Chester) located eastwardly and Brown Street southwards; every corner was graced by various picturesque trees that made this area so unique.
Springfield Township’s pioneers constructed a one-room, brick schoolhouse for the education of their children on Skillman Road (now Glendale-Milford). The kids from Woodlawn attended this institution, which they humorously referred to as the “Squirrel School”. Consequently, with more and more people migrating towards Foster Hill area and Woodlawn Plat and building homes there – alongside numerous barns along with some taverns – Woodlawn began to be recognized by greater society.
In the late 19th century, a two-story wooden schoolhouse was constructed to the west of its red brick counterpart on Wayne Avenue. There were two classrooms downstairs with an expansive hallway for coats and jackets, while stairs ascended towards a large auditorium above. The building also featured a bell tower which transferred over to the other school upon completion. An impressive eight grades were managed by just two teachers! The older boys were always trying to outdo each other in daring acts, such as climbing into the belfry and then walking along the steep roof-line. This usually angered the teachers but it was exciting for them nonetheless! Sliding down banisters kept polished by student hands became a favorite pastime. Each room during winter was heated from one large stove fed with coal from a basement door that boasted an ideal slide for younger children unlike today’s modern playground equipment. A crock of fresh water hung on each wall every morning accompanied by its own community tin cup – surely far different than what we experience today!
A flagpole proudly stood in the front yard, while a two-rail fence enclosed its perimeter. When children desired to take a break from playing their favorite games like jacks, marbles and spinning tops, they would surreptitiously slip under the fence into an evergreen grove located just beyond Wayne Ave School grounds. The cluster of trees hosted countless memorable activities such as ‘I Spy’, ‘Hide and Seek’ or even good ole fashioned ‘Tag.’ While only one stands today as testament to those bygone days of fun and frolic; it still brings fond memories for all who have experienced this magical place.
At Christmastime, an iconic figure of the town, Charlie Hinckley, would prune trees and then sell them to local buyers. In addition to this venture, he also serviced on the school board as clerk – a role in which he demonstrated his discontent with the coal oil lamp hanging on one wall by voicing his disapproval loudly. The Old Stone Jug was rented out for residence during that era too; Peter Norrish resided there and served as janitor at the same time.
The auditorium served many purposes beyond more formal occasions. Villagers from the town would gather in their droves at night, carrying lanterns and torches to enjoy a variety of entertainment such as recitations, cantatas and plays. Back then, oil lamps were used for footlights with makeshift cans fashioned together to cast light on the walls. Nowadays however there are much fancier trimmings involved and artificial lighting is used instead – though real candles still grace our Christmas trees! Always someone is vigilant nearby with buckets full of water in case any flames get too close.
At the start of this century, Woodlawn was a thriving community, bustling with life and home to many families. Everyone had their own cows and chickens as well as an abundant garden and some larger farms. The road was full of travelers but it quickly became infiltrated by horseless carriages which kicked up dust that could be felt ankle-deep when conditions were dry. In 1899, these cars took over the pike before eventually being followed by streetcars that ran from Glendale to points down south; even Cincinnati! Train service also provided quick transport for locals making Woodlawn more connected than ever before.
For over a century, the Tuckers and Fosters had constructed their cabins while the Tucker burial ground lay forgotten in tall grasses. At three o’clock every day, schoolchildren would gather at the nearby train depot to collect newspapers for their journey home. After local service was discontinued, this former station became an inviting residence for one Woodlawn family.
In the late spring of eighth grade, students from Wyoming High took the train or streetcar to Cincinnati for a chance at taking their Boxwell Exam. If these young pupils excelled on this assessment and achieved success, then they would be rewarded with one free year of high school tuition fees courtesy of the school itself! Later down the line came Patterson State Exam which could offer up no less than four years gratis if passed satisfactorily – all that was left was for parents to fund remaining three-year’s worth.
The following sources were used:
Hamilton County Historical Society
Hamilton County Public Library
Millcreek Valley News
Miss May Sharpe
Mr. John Norrish
Mrs. Brownfield – Century Inn
Mr. Arthur Biddle
Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Bickley
Brief conversations with other local personalities
Originally Compiled by Mary Ruth Allison