Jackson Center founded for religious freedom

By Tom Woodruff - For the Sidney Daily News

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.

JACKSON CENTER — The village of Jackson Center was the last one platted in Shelby County, Ohio. It remains the only village in the state founded on the basis of religious freedom.

The village was platted on Jan. 14. 1835, by James Wells for Calvin Davis. The Davis family is to be considered the founding family of Jackson Center. They relocated here for the freedom to practice their chosen religion which was Seventh Day Baptist. At that point in history this was the furthest west any family of that faith was located.

Other people assisting with that platting were J.M. Camomile, J.P. Forsythe, John S. Babcock and Lemuel Lippincot. They were considered the proprietors of the town

Common names among the first settlers were the Nogle, Cathart, Snyder, Johnson, Knight, Hughes and Babcock families. About 1843 additional family names were also residents including Brandenberg, Hawyer, McCormick, Bonnourant and Babcocks.

As the area was completely grown over with native trees, some of the first businesses were sawmills. The first was known as the Davis horse mill as there was no available water in that section of the township. A steam powered flour mill was opened in 1849. That mill burned in 1868, was rebuilt by the Babcock brothers and run by them until 1875. A steam sawmill was opened in 1866 by McCord and Slusser. The Dearbaugh family operated and other sawmill in the 1870s.

At the time of its founding the village was a venerable mud hole, so what is known as “corduroying” was done to the road surfaces. That was done by laying tree trunks long enough to span the entire road side by side in the mud to create as stable surface. Remnants of this corduroy surface remained in some parts of the village into the 1960s.

As the area was basically a farming community, the first order of business was to clear the land for farming. Trees were felled in monumental numbers during that time. This gave the local sawmills plenty of work, but not all that was cut was viable for the production of lumber. Some of the balance was taken to an ashery operated by me E.P. Stout. The wood was burned and the ashes were rendered into potash by running water through the ashes. That potash was a viable by product with one of its uses bring the production of gun powder.

The first post office was established in 1860 with E. Stout as the first postmaster.

As with other villages and towns of this early era, everything needed to sustain life and operate any business of any sort was made available by local merchants. Those included no less than five saw mills, a cabinet and furniture maker who also produced the necessary wooden caskets, a wagon maker, horse harness shops, at least three milliners shops that made ladies fancy hats, dry goods stores, a bakery, musical instruments and a piano store. Others sold dresses and mens tailored suits, dental office and newspapers.at one time as many as five doctors served this community: McBurney, Ailes, McCormick and Mollie Hawyer.

Churches were obviously an important part of a village founded for religious freedom, Those included The Seventh Day Baptist in 1840, The Disciples of Christ, Grace Lutheran in 1921, and United Methodist in 1838.

Early transportation needs were met by the wagon and harness makers and there was a livery stable on East Pike Street where the village offices are currently located. Several brands of automobiles were marketed here including Chevrolet, Ford, Maxwell, Willys, Knight and Oldsmobile. You could even buy a Dayton brand motorcycle at the Dearbaugh and Moodie store.

In 1889 a college was built on what is now named College Street. It was financed by local citizens by solicitation. Professor Francis Heck was in charge of the curriculum, At that time, according to local newspaper accounts it was “the only institution of its kind in Shelby county.” Normal and business courses were especially prominent. Many of the 140 students went on to teach in the surrounding area schools. Some of the classes included math, history, English, ornothology German and Latin.

The demise of the college was to be another advance in the village economy. It was the arrival in 1894 of the Detroit-Toledo and Ironton railroad. Its close proximity to the college building made for very noisy and dirty conditions due to the coal burning steam train engines of the period. The wooden building was eventually torn down and much of the usable lumber was re-used to build houses in town. The college was only open for a total of four years. Unfortunately there seem to be no existing photographs of the building.

Early student education was of varied nature and location in the early history of the village. The first classes were held in the homes of local residents and classes were taught by area Lutheran and Catholic clergy. Eventually one room school houses were built around the township. The earliest of these were crude log structures then in the 1880’s one room brick structures were built. Students were grouped not by age but by their ability and proficiency in various subjects such as math, reading skills and their ability to write.

Students walked to school year around with the older students assisting with fetching water from the well and keeping the fire in the stove going in colder weather. There were 10 of these one room schools in Jackson Township. As of this date some are still standing nearly 130 years after they were built. Some are used as machinery by the farmers on whose land the buildings stand while others have been modernized into comfortable residences.

The first centralized school building was in the 200 block of West Pike Street (state Route 274) in 1895. That led to the closing of the one room school houses that year. The grades in this building were organized with grades one through eight downstairs and the higher grades upstairs. There were six teachers at the building. A larger six room brick school was built in 1902 on the southeast corner of Linden and Davis streets. This was a six room structure housing all grades one through 12. A high school building was built just to the south of the 1902 building in 1928.

Many fraternal groups have called JC area home over the years including The masonic lodge (founded in Montra in 1871), moved to Jackson Center in 1877. The Eastern Star (1901), The I.O.O.F., The Sisters of Rebecca, The Knight of the Golden Eagle, The American club (1895) and the Knights of the Macabees in Montra.

Local entertainment was to be had through the years at free band concerts, ice cream socials, a movie theatre upstairs above John Burke’s store. Free movies were also sponsored by local merchants and shown in the back of Dearbaugh and Moodie’s store and out-of-doors where the current Jackson Center fire department and police building are located on the Northeast corner of Davis and Linden streets. During bad weather these Saturday night movies were screened in the high school gymnasium. Those out-of-door movies were held during the 1940s.

Jackson Center was also one of the first towns in Ohio have a scout troop with its founding in 1912 .The first scout master was A.W. Davis and the meetings were held in a spare room in the back of Zehner’s drug store.

The history of this village continues to evolve with many successful businesses, churches, financial institutions, local government and fraternal organizations. We are proud of our history as a village with strong pioneering spirit, and a genuine interest in the well-being of our citizens.

The content of this article is a compilation of notes, rememberances and oral history provided by the late Hazel Leininger and the late Eldon McGowan. McGowan was the first president of our historical society and a lifelong resident and public servant of Jackson Center.


By Tom Woodruff

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is the president of Jackson Center Historical Society.

The writer is the president of Jackson Center Historical Society.