Editor’s note: in conjunction with the 200th celebration of the establishment of Shelby County, the Sidney Daily News will be publishing a year long series about the county’s history.
SIDNEY — What kind of Bicentennial Celebration would it be if we didn’t pay homage to the oldest home in the county? Built in 1816, the Wilson-Lenox house on the Ditmer farm has withstood the test of time and looks rather remarkable for its ripe old age of 203! It has been a key feature during Shelby County’s Bicentennial as one of the last remaining relics from an age gone by.
In May, nearly 700 third graders from schools across the county participated in a special, three day educational event hosted by the Shelby County Historical Society in conjunction with the bicentennial. Several students made models of the impressive building for their art project while it was also featured as a popular location for youth groups across the county. In October, members of the community are invited to visit this magnificent house for Forestry Field Day; a day filled with family friendly activities put on by the Shelby Soil and Water Conservation District. A house is merely a building, however. Its significance is defined not only by its age, but also by the works of its owners.
In 1807, John Wilson and his young family settled along the banks of Turtle Creek. Wilson was born in 1774 in Grayson County, Virginia, and in 1799 he married Anna Webb, a native of Georgia and descendent of English royalty who had been a mail courier in her youth during the Revolutionary War. Wilson’s family arrived in Warren County, Ohio, in 1801. In March 1807, they arrived in Shelby County with their three children and began preparations for a farm. As aggressions between Native Americans and early pioneers progressed, Wilson felt the need to register with the Ohio Militia and served as a private under Captain Thomas Seton from February to August 1813.
In 1816, he built the first brick house in Shelby County, which remains standing as one of our county’s crown jewels, rival only to the Johnston Farm. Wilson remained active in local politics and was one of the men who helped with our county’s inception, serving as one of the first County Commissioners. In 1841, Wilson met his end from the blow of a falling tree limb and is buried in Carey Cemetery in Hardin.
John and Anna Wilson had only three children: Jesse H., Sally, and Hiram J. Wilson. Each one of John’s children was quite fruitful, however, and produced a total of more than three dozen grandchildren, leaving his descendents quite plentiful. Jesse Hamilton Wilson was the eldest child, born Nov. 12, 1800, in Grayson County, Virginia. He is most well known for the story of how during the War of 1812, his parents left him in Piqua thinking it would be safer than the wilderness in which they had settled. Not wanting to be left behind, Jesse traveled over 12 miles through dense woods to return home. Jesse Wilson, often called Col. Wilson for an unknown reason, gave Washington Township its original name of Grayson Township. after his birthplace in Virginia. Only a few months after Shelby County was established, Jesse was married to Abigail Brodrick on Nov. 18, 1819, by his brother-in-law, James Lenox, who was the Justice of the Peace at that time. Jesse made his home just north of where his father established his homestead, and together, he and Abigail had 13 children.
Perhaps the most well known of their children is Dr. Albert Wilson, the first man to enlist in the Civil War from Shelby County following President Lincoln’s call to arms. Born in 1826, he began his medical studies under Dr. Conklin in Sidney and enlisted as a surgeon with the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, later becoming a founding member of the Grand Army of the Republic Neal Post #62. Another two of Jesse’s sons, Henry C. and Cassius C., also served in the Civil War. The profession of physician seemed to run in Jesse Wilson’s family, as he also had a grandson, John Albert Wilson (son of Robert Wilson), become a prominent physician in Franklin County, Ohio. Jesse H. Wilson lived a good long life until his death on July 19, 1881. He is buried in Brookside Cemetery, just north of his homestead.
John Wilson’s second son and youngest child was Hiram Jeremiah Wilson, born on Nov. 8, 1804, in Warren County, Ohio. He married Elizabeth Vandemark on Nov. 25, 1824, and together they had 13 children as well. After thinking that Ohio had become too crowded, Hiram moved his wife and seven children (at that time) to the “wild and desolate” great plains of Iowa in Johnson County. Unfortunately, tragedy struck not long after their move and two of the young boys, Mortimer and David, succumbed to food poisoning after eating spoiled chicken. By 1846, Hiram and his family had returned and settled on a piece of land directly south of John Wilson’s homestead. Two of his children also went on to serve in the Civil War, Henry V. and John W. Only Henry returned home after serving in the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry where he made his way up through the ranks as Commissary Sergeant. There he served alongside Col. Harrison Wilson, who was no relation, but later became a prominent judge in Sidney and donated 27 acres of land for the creation of a hospital, after whom Wilson Health is still named. Sadly, Hiram would not see his son’s return home from war as he passed away on Oct. 1, 1864, only a few months after John was killed in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
New Year’s Day in 1803 was a joyous occasion for John Wilson’s family as that was the day his only daughter, Sally, was born. On Feb. 12, 1818, Sally married James Lenox, who came to Shelby County in 1811 with his widowed mother and brothers Richard and John. James Lenox was extremely active in the early affairs of the county, serving not only as a Justice of the Peace but also as the first county treasurer, among other offices. Lenox served in the War of 1812, after which he settled in Turtle Creek Twp., where he and his wife remained until after the death of John Wilson.
By 1846, Sally Lenox and her family had taken over her family’s homestead, therefore giving it the infamous “Wilson-Lenox House” nickname. James and Sally also had an abundance of children, twelve in total, several of whom followed their father’s footsteps and entered into the service during the Civil War. Abraham, Napoleon, Virgil Cowan, and Jesse Lenox all served in the Union’s forces; however only Virgil and Jesse returned home from the war. Abraham was mortally wounded near Atlanta, passing away on August 26, 1864 while Napoleon died only a few months after he mustered out of the Benton Cadets in 1862. James Lenox died a short time later on Dec. 9, 1865, leaving Sally and their son Hamilton in charge of the farm.
Upon Sally’s death in 1883, Hamilton C. Lenox remained in charge of the Wilson family homestead. It is noted that he was quite an eccentric and wealthy bachelor, and was living alone at the time of his death. He had a heart attack while chasing after some cows that had gotten loose, and was found by two girls on their way to go fishing still in his Sunday best and the mail in his pocket. After Hamilton Lenox’s death, the Wilson-Lenox house and property changed hands several times until the Ditmer family acquired it and breathed life into the property once more, where it is still in their caring hands today!
The writer is tHe curator of the Shelby County Historical Society.