HARDIN — “There haven’t been this many people in Hardin since its founding.”
That’s how Eric Ditmer, of rural Hardin, opened the ceremonies marking the Shelby County Bicentennial celebration in the town, Saturday, April 27. About 300 people attended the event, which included speeches, a student art show, a display of historical quilts, a car show, a traveling museum exhibit, a jail, a food truck and entertainment by various performers throughout the day.
Following the April 1 ceremony on the Sidney courtsquare that started the two-year commemoration of the founding of Shelby County and Sidney, it was fitting that the first village celebration be in Hardin. The town was the first county seat.
Terry Pellman, of Sidney, gave a short history of the area.
“The community in which we find ourselves standing today was named after Col. John Hardin,” he said. “This military officer was sent by Gen. George Washington to this part of Ohio in response to violent encounters with some Indian tribes.”
Hardin and several other soldiers were killed by the Indians they had planned to meet.
“Several tumultuous years followed until Gen. Mad Anthony Wayne’s forces suppressed the threat by local Indian tribes,” Pellman said. He discussed who early settlers were and a stockade built by Cephus Carey that protected local residents.
Mail delivery began in 1806. A road along Turtle Creek was built in 1808. When Shelby County was established from a portion of Miami County in 1819, Hardin was named the county seat. In 1820, the center of government moved to Sidney when land was donated there for a courthouse.
“The first church was built in 1832, to replace a church that had stood south of Hardin where Brookside Cemetery is now. That first church was destroyed in a windstorm,” Pellman said. “A wagon shop opened for business in 1840 and the first sawmill was built in 1854. In the early settlement, there waer a store , a hotel, a carpenter shop and a cabinet shop.”
A log schoolhouse was probably the first one constructed in Shelby County.
Pellman referenced the Hardin Elementary School which was demolished in 2011 and the Compromise Grange Hall which now serves as an event center for the Hardin United Methodist Church.
“I’m certain that I am one of many thousands who harbor fond memories of growing up in or near this community. I just hope that young people growing up in the Hardin area today get to look back upon it as I do now, as a place where you felt safe and welcome and where certain basic traits of good people could be counted upon. Thinking back, I never knew a mean-spirited person in Hardin,” Pellman said.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart, dressed as an early 19th-century lawman, carried the county flag on the last leg of its run from the courtsquare in Sidney. He rode in a buggy pulled by a horse with the flag flying full out in the wind. It had been carried by a progression of people, including Steve Knouff and Cassidy Mayse, descendents of Cephas Carey, one of Hardin’s first settlers; Doug Allinger and Kathy Pinson, descendants of John Wilson, who built the first brick house in Shelby County; Robert and Helen Wise; Roy and Carol Morelock, Bruce Michael and Joseph Renner, whose families have been longtime residents of Hardin; and Tyler Rauth, representing the youth of Hardin.
Lenhart presented a history of law enforcement in the county, noting that when the county was established, Minster and New Bremen were in it.
“We messed up. We should have kept them,” he laughed.
The first sheriff, Daniel Dingman, was sworn in, May 17, 1819.
“He took an oath to uphold the constitution of Ohio and of the United States, the same oath that every sheriff and deputy has taken for the last 200 years,” Lenhart said. He listed several early cases that came before the court of common pleas because a probate court was not opened until 1852.
“Sheriff Dingman was ordered by the judge to go find prospective jurors for a jury trial. He went out on the streets of Hardin and said, ‘Joe, Larry, you’re going to be on a jury,’” he said. That jury found one Rebecca Gerrand guilty of larceny.
In another case, “the court granted a license for keeping — you figure out what this means — a house of entertainment for a $5 fee,” he said.
The first sheriff of this territory, he noted, had been Ebenezer Sproat, who was appointed by George Washington.
“The first sheriffs, whether elected or appointed, were lawmen, coroners, tax collectors and hangmen,” he said.
Thomas Ruckman was the first elected sheriff and the first to take a person to the state penitentiary, which was built in 1813. James Dryman, who served from 1857-1861, was the first to be a hangman and got a fee of $100. Benjamin McLean was the first to die in the line of duty. He was beaten to death in 1867 while trying to arrest two horse thieves in Sidney.
“There have been 40 sheriffs who have served in the last 200 years, and there have been three of us who have served two times with breaks between years of elected terms. In closing, on behalf of the men and women who serve at the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, we would like to thank the historical society and the Bicentennial Committee for the honor of posting the Shelby County flag on this 200th anniversary of Shelby County. The first 200 years is just the start. There’s a lot more good stuff to come,” Lenhart said.
Retired Army Col. Mike Bennett discussed a project by the Vets to DC Committee to put signs at selected bridges throughout the county in honor of local military personnel who died in service to the country. He presented the sign that will be posted at the bridge along Hardin-Wapakoneta Road about a mile north of state Route 705. The sign bears the names of servicemen from Turtle Creek Township.
Doug Allinger presented a chalice that had been in an early Presbyterian church to the Rev. Jack Chalk, of the Hardin United Methodist Church. Chalk had given the invocation to open the ceremonies.
Shelby County Commissioner Bob Guillozet, on behalf of his fellow commissioners, proclaimed 2019 the county’s bicentennial year.
Carmen Beaver, Olivia Maier and Delaney White led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Hardin-Houston High School Band played the national anthem.
Entertainment was provided by the Hardin-Houston Elementary School Choir, the Stratford Strings, the Irish Strings, St. Johns Bells, Amanda Shaffer and Alexis Regula, and Timmy G.
Displayed in the Methodist Church were historic quilts in an exhibit organized by Sharon Mohrbacher, of Sidney. Each quilt was at least 25 years old and each was accompanied by a small sign that told its story. Coverlets dating as far back as the mid-19th century were displayed.
Kurt Anderson, of Houston, organized a car show that attracted owners from as far away as Alabama. Visitors were encouraged to vote for their favorite vehicle on display. They got to choose from cars and trucks dating to 1923. A 1950 Ford Anglia owned by Gary Shaffer took home the People’s Choice Award.
A traveling museum and a replica jail captured the attention of attendees, while artwork by students in the Sidney, Lehman, Holy Angels, Christian Academy, Fort Loramie, Jackson Center, Anna and Botkins school systems was admired in the Crossroads building.
The building also housed an impressive display from the Hardin-Houston school district of posters and models of historical buildings created by the third-grade students of Jane Borchers, Nate Fridley and Deb Smith and a fascinating array of pictographs illustrating how Native Americans communicated when what is now Shelby County belonged to them. The pictographs were made by second-grade students of Melissa Bowers and Lisa Koesters.
The Bicentennial event was organized by the Shelby County Historical Society.
“They are the foundation of our county,” said Director Tilda Phlipot in speaking of Hardin. “I wanted them to shine, and they did.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.