Athens, Ohio

We quote from the records of the Ohio Company, December 8th, 1795, the following report of the committee for examining the lands on the Hockhocking, suitable for fifth division lots

“Where beasts with men divided empire claim, And the brown Indian marks with murderous aim,”

“We, the subscribers, being appointed a committee by a resolve of the agents of the Ohio Company of the 9th of November, 1790, and for the purpose expressed in said resolve, but being prevented from attending to that business by the Indian war, until a treaty took place, since which (in company with Jeffrey Matthewson, a surveyor appointed by the superintendent of surveys), having measured and very minutely examined the lands of the Hockhocking, report: That in range 14, township 10, the following sections or mile squares, viz : No. 13, 19, 20, 25, 31, and 32; in range 15, township 12, sections No. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 17, 23, 24, 30, 35, and 36; in range 16, township 12, sections No. 5, 12, and 19; in range 16, township 13, sections No. 13, 14, 20, 21, 26, 271 25, 33 and 34, we find are suitable to be laid out in fifth division lots agreeably to a map herewith exhibited. Having also examined and surveyed the land at the mouth of the great Hockhocking we find it very suitable for home lots and in quantity according to the map herewith exhibited.

ROBERT OLIVER, Committee.”

The records of the Ohio Company show that on the 9th of November, 1790, a committee of three was appointed to reconnoiter and survey the lands of the Company lying on the upper Hockhocking. This committee consisted of Jonathan Devol, Robert Oliver and Haffield White, and was styled “the reconnoitering committee.” Owing, however, to Indian hostilities, the work was deferred some years and the regular survey of Athens and adjoining townships was not begun till January, I795. The surveying party, which came up the Hockhocking river in canoes, was accompanied by a guard of fifteen men, as the Indian war had hardly closed and it was feared that bands of the savages might be found lurking in these deep forests. But none were met with, and the survey was completed during the ensuing spring and summer.

The township as established by the county commissioners at their first meeting included territory which now forms five townships, viz: Swan and Brown, of Vinton county, and Waterloo, Canaan and Athens of Athens county. Thus though not so extensive as Alexander or Ames, Athens township nevertheless included a large extent of country. It was, for that period, a fair two days’ journey across the township; and although the country was now emerging from the condition of an unbroken wilderness, it was still very wild and thinly populated. The Rev. James Quinn, a pioneer Methodist preacher who died in Highland county at an advanced age in 1847, settled in Ohio in 1804. The same year he and the Rev. John Meek were appointed to the “Hockhocking circuit,” which embraced not only the Hockhocking valley but also the settlements on the Muskingum and on the Scioto from the high bank below Chillicothe up to the neighborhood of where Columbus now stands. In 1805 Mr. Quinn was returned to the same circuit with the Rev. Joseph Williams as his colleague. A camp-meeting, probably the first ever held in the county, was held by Bishop Asbury and Mr. Quinn near the town of Athens in 1810. Mr. Quinn states that it lasted four days, and that Bishop Asbury preached two powerful sermons. In his autobiography, published many years since, Mr. Quinn says:

My first missionary excursion up the Hockhocking valley was performed in December, 1799. Leaving the vicinity of Marietta I ascended the Muskingum to the mouth of Wolf creek and then took the trace to Athens and the falls of Hockhocking. But, taking the right hand trace I left Athens to the left and passing through Amestown, struck the Hockhocking at the identical spot where Nelsonville now stands. There, at the foot of a large beech tree, I stopped and prayed. Having given my horse his mess of corn, and eaten my piece of pone and meat, I cut my name on the beech, mounted poor Wilks and went on. Between sundown and dark I reached the old Indian town near the falls. Here I found three families. They came together and I preached to them. I passed on up the river as far as there were any settlements, spending nearly a week with the people in the vicinity of where Lancaster now is. I then returned by the way I had come and stopped again at my beech tree. Saturday night found me at Athens and in comfortable lodgings at the house of a Mr. Stevens. The people came together the next day, which I think was the first Sabbath of January, 1800. I took for my text St. Paul’s language to the Athenians of old, ‘ Of this ignorance,’ etc. There were a few Methodists in the region round about, and we had a refreshing time.”

This Mr. Quinn was ordained by Bishop Whatcoat, who was ordained by Wesley himself.

Between this time and the organization of the county in 1805 steps were taken by the trustees of the university toward establishing the town.

On the 6th of June, 1804, they passed an “ordinance providing for the sale of lots in the town of Athens.

The town of Athens had been “confirmed and established,” by a legislative act of December 6, 1800; it was regularly incorporated by an act, passed January 28, 1811, entitled “an act to incorporate the town of Athens, and for other purposes.” This act enacted that “so much of the township of Athens, county of Athens, as is contained in the plat of the town of Athens, as recorded in the recorder’s office in the county of Washington, be and the same is hereby erected into a town corporate, to be known and distinguished by the name of the town of Athens.” It provided for an annual election of a town council and other officers. It also authorized and directed “the trustees of the Ohio university to lease to the county commissioners, on a nominal rent, for ninety-nine years, renewable forever, in-lots Nos. 35 and 37, on which the court house and jail now stand, and also inlot No. 18, reserved for the purpose of building a school and meeting house;” also, to lease, on the same terms, the grounds reserved for a burying ground.

This act of incorporation was amended February 15, 1812, when the trustees of the Ohio university were authorized and directed to lease to the Methodist society in the town of Athens, on the foregoing terms, “a piece of the public commons which adjoins out-lot No. 61, beginning at the S. E. corner of said lot, thence E. four chains, thence N. eight chains, thence W. four chains, thence S. to the place of beginning for the use of the said Methodist society, and to build a meeting house thereon for the purposes of worship.”

During the next half century, the population of the town and township increased but slowly. The extreme inaccessibility of the town during a long period, from the absence of railroad or other good communications, prevented a large immigration, while the superior agricultural advantages of states lying further west, have drawn away, from time to time, numbers of the citizens. In 1820, the population of the township was 1,114; in 1830, it was 1,703; in 1840, it was 2,282; in 1850, it was 2,360; and in 1860, it was 2,852. The present population of the town of Athens is about two thousand. It is handsomely situated, and, for a town of its class, well built. With a healthful location, in the midst of a region abounding in natural beauties of an uncommonly attractive and picturesque order, and with a quiet and intelligent population, Athens may justly be regarded as a pleasant place of residence. There is good reason also to believe that the future growth of the town will exceed the past. It is now accessible by one railroad, and will soon be the terminus of another. We have, elsewhere in these pages, adverted to the great mineral wealth of the county, and it can not be doubted that these attractions will eventually draw a large and valuable immigration to this point.

A recent triumph of the liberality and active enterprise of the citizens of Athens merits a conspicuous mention-we refer to the securing of the new lunatic asylum. January 17, 1866, Dr. W. P. Johnson, representative from Athens county in the state legislature, caused a resolution to be offered, through Mr. Lockwood, of Licking county, instructing “the committee on benevolent institutions to inquire what action is necessary by the general assembly, to do justice to the incurable insane, and report, by bill or otherwise,” which passed the house. February 21, 1866, Dr. Johnson, chairman of the committee aforesaid, reported, by direction of the committee, a “bill to provide for the erection of an additional lunatic asylum, and for the enlargement of the northern and southern lunatic asylums.” Meanwhile a flood of light was thrown on the condition of the incurable insane, within the state, by a committee of the state medical society, whose thorough and exhaustive reports on the subject, Dr. Johnson brought before the legislature, contributing much to the success of his measure. His bill, entitled “an act to provide for the erection of an additional lunatic asylum,” became a law, April 13, 1867. It provided for the appointment, by the governor, of three trustees, to select and purchase, or receive by gift or donation, a lot of land, not less than fifty nor more than one hundred acres, suitably located for the erection of an asylum, to contain four hundred patients. Mr. W. E. Davis, of Cincinnati, Mr. D. E. Gardner, of Toledo, and Dr. C. McDermont, of Dayton, were appointed trustees; a vacancy occurring in this committee, through the death of Dr. McDermont, Mr. E. H. Moore, of Athens, was appointed in his place. There were various competing points, and for some time the contest was sharp and close; but through the superiority of her claims, the sagacity of her representative, and the liberality of her citizens, Athens finally eclipsed all rivals and secured the asylum. To carry the point, the citizens purchased and made a gift to the state of one hundred and fifty acres of land, lying south of the town, known as the Coates farm. The site is faultless. The land lies beautifully, overlooking the valley of the Hockhocking, with its encircling hills, and commanding on every side a picturesque and varied view. The location was fixed by the trustees in August, 1867. Contracts for the excavation have been let to Messrs. Maris & McAboy; for the brick (about 12,o00,000) to Messrs. D. W. H. Day and James W. Sands; and for the masonry to William McAboy. The entire length of the building will be about eight hundred feet, and its cost about four hundred thousand dollars. It will be an elegant and important feature of the place, and can not fail to attract public attention to the town and county.

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