Guernsey County is bounded on the north by Tuscarawas and Harrison counties, on the east by Belmont County, on the south by Noble County, and on the west by Muskingum and Coshocton counties. Its soil is derived chiefly from the underlying rocks, which are mostly shales or sandstone. Except on the eastern borders, where the limestone at the base of the upper coal measure is reached, this applies where the soil is loose and thin. In some places, it affords barely enough hold for the growth of grasses on the steep hillsides. A very small portion of the lands in the county were uncultivated later than 1880. It has every facility for a good dairy section, and to this many have, of late years, turned their attention with much profit. Its many springs and cooling streams make it an ideal country for this branch of the farm industry. Sheep also do well and long years since the county ranked third and fourth of all the counties in Ohio in the production of sheep and wool.
The county, generally speaking, is very hilly and uneven in its topography. It has been rightly termed “uphill and downhill” in its make-up. The highest ground is in the northwest and southwest portions. Four miles out of this county—over in Muskingum County—west from Spencer Township, Guernsey County, is situated High Hill, the highest isolated point in Ohio, though in Logan County the general altitude is greater. There is a romantic appearance to the general topography here. Strangely, there are no valleys but those shut in and surrounded by other hills and valleys. There are quiet dells, retiring far between the swelling hills, and this makes the whole scene one of beauty and charm to the passerby. The slopes afford good pasture, and in many instances, the hillsides are covered with fine vineyards. The best mines in the county are located in the southern part. The southwestern section affords an excellent farming country, and many years ago this was noted for its wealth of livestock and prosperous farmers.
The drainage of the county is by the valley of Wills Creek, a branch of the Muskingum River. The headwaters of Wills Creek include the well-known streams or creeks Leathenvood, Crooked Creek, Salt Fork, Bushy Creek, and Sugar Tree Fork, with Leathenvood being the larger of these tributaries. Wills Creek flows from its headwaters in Noble County, through the entire length of Guernsey, emptying into the Muskingum near the corners of Muskingum and Coshocton counties. All other streams in this section of Ohio flow toward the south, but Wills Creek flows north—away from Ohio. It is a sluggish stream, following a tortuous course, north and south, through the western part of the county, with scarcely a footfall per mile—hence its sluggishness. Its numerous tributaries form a complete network throughout the entire county. The soil through which Wills Creek flows is yellowish, hence the yellow appearance of this stream everywhere it meanders.
The county abounds in a good grade of both lime and sandstone and valuable clays; it also has an abundance of excellent timber, though much of the original forests have been long ago cut and sawn, leaving, however, a good supply for the present and oncoming generations. Beech, poplar, sycamore, oak, chestnut, maple, elm, and ash are among the valuable varieties of timber growing.
Coal, which is mentioned in the Mining chapter, underlies almost every portion of the county and has become the most profitable branch of Guernsey County’s industries. Salt can be obtained by drilling wells, which was done at a very early date in the history of the county.
Nature, everywhere within the confines of this county, smiles on man and yields up her treasures of soil and mineral wealth. The landscape certainly is one “ever a feast to the eye” and is admired by residents and strangers alike. When the spring buds put forth, there is a sweetness in the atmosphere one seldom finds elsewhere. When autumn puts on her robes of beauty and silently glides winterward, no finer hues and brilliant commingling of forest leaves can be seen on the continent. While there are many countries with deeper, richer soil, where crop cultivation can be carried out with less effort and more profit, there are few countries better in terms of the general resources that contribute to making people happy and content with what nature has given them.
The following interesting items concerning the streams of this county and their names are from the pen of Hon. William M. Farrar: The streams of Guernsey County have somewhat curious names, such as Leatherwood, from a bush with a tough, leathery bark used by pioneers for many useful purposes; Yoker, from the yoker brush that grows along its banks; Wills Creek, from Wills River in Maryland; Crooked Creek, from its winding course; Little and Big Skull Forks, from the fact that in early times, when Indians made one of their raids into the white settlements east of the Ohio River, they were returning with their prisoners, among whom were a mother and infant child. The Indians, being pursued, first killed the infant and left the body to be devoured by wolves, who left no remains but the little skull. Farther on, the mother was killed, and in like manner, devoured by the wolves, leaving only the skull. These skulls were found by the pursuing whites on the banks of the streams which thus received their respective names. Another stream is named Indian Camp, from one of their camping grounds.
The settlement of the county was unusual, in that settlers from so many different districts met here. The Virginians and Guernseymen met at Wills Creek; the Yankees from Massachusetts and western Pennsylvanians in the southwest; Quakers from North Carolina and Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the southeast; the Irish in the northern and western townships. A settlement from New Jersey extends into two townships, while there are families, descendants of the Hessians, in the southern part of the county that came through Virginia and Maryland settlements. The youngest daughter of General Stark of the Revolution died in this county at the age of ninety-nine years.
The man who wields the second oar in the painting of “Perry’s Victory,” in the rotunda of the Ohio State House, was a Guernsey County man known as “Fighting Bill” Reed. He was of Virginia or Pennsylvania stock and learned the blacksmith trade from William McCracken of Cambridge.
General Broadhead’s trail in his Coshocton campaign in 1781 against the Indians is distinctly marked through the county. There were no Indian villages in this region, it being the hunting ground of parties that hunted and fished along the principal streams.
In 1798, “Zane’s Trace” was cut through the county. When Zane’s party arrived at Wills Creek crossing, they found the government surveyors busy surveying the United States military lands. They had a camp on its banks. At this time, the only dwelling between Wheeling and Lancaster was at Zanesville. The Zanes were from the south branch of the Potomac, near Wills River in Maryland, and hence gave the name Wills Creek to the stream. As far as is known, Ebenezer Zane’s party consisted of himself, his brother Jonathan Zane, John Mclntire, Joseph Worley, Levi Williams, and an Indian guide named Tomepomehala.
Coal, which is mentioned in the Mining chapter, underlies almost every portion of the county and has become the most paying branch of Guernsey County’s industries. Salt can be had by boring wells.
Wills Creek is a sluggish stream with a clay bottom and, choked up as it was at that time with driftwood and debris, was a difficult crossing. The Zanes, in compliance with the requirements of the act to establish and maintain ferries at the principal crossings, probably induced a man by the name of Graham to establish one there. It was the first stream west of Wheeling on the “Trace” over which they placed a ferry. Who this first ferryman was or where he was from is not known. He remained about two years and was succeeded by George Beymer from Somerset, Pennsylvania, a brother-in-law of John Mclntire of Zane’s party. Mclntire was a brother-in-law of Ebenezer Zane. Both of these individuals kept a house of entertainment and a ferry for travelers on their way to Kentucky and other parts of the West. Mr. Beymer, in April 1803, gave up his tavern to John Beatty, who moved from Loudoun County, Virginia with his family of eleven persons. Among these was Wyatt Hutchinson, who later kept a tavern in the town. The Indians hunted in this vicinity and often camped on the creek. In June 1806, Cambridge was laid out, and on the day the lots were first offered for sale, several families from the British Isle of Guernsey, near the coast of France, stopped here and purchased lands. These were followed by other families, amounting in all to some fifteen or twenty, from the same island. All of them settled in the county, giving origin to its present name. Among the heads of these families were William Ogier, Thomas Naftel, Thomas Lanfisty, James Bichard, Charles and John Marquand, John Robbins, Daniel Ferbrache, Peter, Thomas, and John Sarchet, and Daniel Hubert.