This page features true tales of Ohio’s past & will be included in a future publication, “Amazing Stories From Ohio History: Exciting Events, Odd Occurrences, & Terrible Tragedies”.
“The Explosion” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Sulphur Springs, OH – (mid-1800s to present farming & mill town with less residents than in the past)
Classification: small town
Location: Salt Lick Township, Perry County – On Sulphur Spring Rd SE at the intersection of Township Rd 215A
GPS coordinates: 39.600905 -82.166105
The town was named after a mineral spring that runs through the area & had a couple of saw mills & grist mills in the mid to late-1800s. There was also a school on the west side of Sulphur Springs Rd SE just south of the intersection & a Campbellite Church at Springer Cemetery 1 & 1/2 miles northeast of the intersection on the west side of Bohemian Rd SE (Co Rd 13). A general store on the north side of the intersection, which was the site of an awful explosion on September 9, 1870, was owned by Lewis McDonald (1819 – 1870) & Margaret (Wilson) McDonald.
Lewis, Civil War veteran George Gaver (1820 – 1870) who owned the Lyons Flouring Mill, & George W. Gordon were in the store at the time. George Gaver was purchasing some rock blasting powder & stated the quality wasn’t very good after looking at it. He had a bit of the powder in his hand, lit a match to it, & the powder didn’t ignite. Lewis said that form of testing the powder wan’t fair & took some out of a hole in a keg. After placing it on top of a chair several feet from the keg, Lewis struck a match, & applied it to the powder. The entire store immediately exploded, badly burning the 3 men & partially burying them in debris.
One of Lewis’s toddler sons, Nirum (or Niram) McDonald (1866 – 1870) was playing just outside the door & was instantly killed. 13 year old John Priest (1857 – 1870) was also outside & likely about to enter the store. John’s clothes caught fire, so he ran to the nearest section of the creek & jumped in. A woman who was passing by witnessed the incident & pulled John out of the water to keep him from drowning, but he only lived a few minutes longer. The 3 men in the store all made their way out. However, Lewis & George Gaver died a few hours later with Geroge W. Gordon being the only survivor of the tragedy.
Lewis, Nirum, & George Gaver were laid to rest with relatives in Monroe (Drakes) Cemetery 3 & 1/3 miles east of the store on Township Hwy 309 (Township Rd 309) in Monroe Township. John Priest was buried with relatives in Oakwood (Ebenezer Baptist / Millertown) Cemetery 4 & 1/4 miles east of the store on Town Hwy 283. Although the original town site is long gone, Sulpher Springs is classified as a small town for maintaining its existence as an unincorporated community.
“Washed Away” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Utopia, OH – (1844 – present Ohio River town nearly destroyed by flood in 1847)
Classification: semi – ghost town
Location: Franklin Township, Clermont County – On US 52 at the intersection of Bartlow Rd
GPS Coordinates: 38.776092 -84.057244
Utopia was settled in 1844 by Josiah Warren (1798 – 1874) who ran small businesses in the area & believed in the spiritualist teachings of French philosopher Charles Fourier. The community disbanded in 1846 but sprang back up in 1847. Henry Jernegan (1798 – 1880s) laid out the new town of Utopia for John Otis Wattles (1809 – 1859) & Esther (Winery) Wattles (1819 – 1908). They bought the land & sold off the plats individually to more spiritualists.
A 30 room main building, sometimes called the town hall, was moved to the bank of the Ohio River by the Wattles & townspeople. It was horrifically washed away in a flash flood, along with 150 of the 156 town citizens who were attending a party, just a few day later on December 13, 1847. The Wattles weren’t in the hall at the time & survived the flood. Its foundation can be still be seen when the river is low. There’s access to a tunnel on private property near the Brown County border that leads to an underground chamber where some believe religious ceremonies were occasionally performed. However, the chamber appears to simply be a former wine cellar.
Utopia had a post office from 1885 – 1908. The town’s last school, Pierce Township # 13, is about a half mile west of Utopia on the north side of US 52 & is now a private residence. Otis Wattles moved to Kansas with his wife & brother Augustus where they became friends with John Brown during the Civil War. Utopia wasn’t inluded in the 2010 census & the current population is less than 100 residents.
“The Leatherwood God” – Category: Odd Occurrence
Salesville, OH (1835 – present farming, mill, & railroad town with less residents than in the past)
Classsification: small town
Location: Millwood Township, Guernsey County – On SR 265 (Leatherwood Rd) at the intersection of SR 761
GPS coordinates: 39.973677 -81.338582
The area around Salesville was settled in 1806 with more families arriving over the next few decades. Most of them were Quakers, Methodists, & Protestants from the colonial states & North Carolina. A log meeting house, called the temple, was built by the Methodists in 1816 near Leatherwood Creek. The Protestants (United Brethren) held camp meetings in the early days with no fixed location gather at.
In 1828 at Miller’s Methodist Chapel, which was near present day Leatherwood Cemetery, a man who went by the name Joseph C. Dylkes showed up & interrupted the service. He announced that he was a messiah sent from the heavens. In the following weeks after the service, Dykles continued to attend the various religious meetings at all of the congregations around Salesville & visited many homes of the most influential local residents. Despite his outlandish claims of having almighty powers & being immortal, Dylkes actually gained the following & trust of lots of people in town.
It created havoc for Salesville, & even led to violence on a few occasions, as friends & families were so quickly & deeply divided in their personal beliefs. Drawing followers from all over the area, Dylkes had control of the Leatherwood temple for a while. A bunch of townspeople that were fed up with Dylkes eventually formed a mob & arrested him. Dylkes was never charged or formerly put on trial though. According to the judge, it wasn’t a crime against their judicial system to be or claim to be a god. An angry mob formed outside the courthouse & chased Dylkes out of town pretty much running for his life.
After hiding out for a few weeks & evading capture by people still on the lookout for him, Dylkes showed back up in Salesville & had a few secretive meetings with his followers. He convinced them that he was going to build a utopia community called “New Jerusalem” near Philadelphia. Dylkes, Reverend Samuel Davis, Michael Brill, & Robert McCormick took off east on foot. When they got to a fork in the road just a few miles from Philadelphia, Dylkes had them split up & said they would “meet back up in the big light”. Dylkes & Davis went one way & Brill & McCormick the other, never finding the big light or seeing Dylkes & Davis again.
Brill & McCormick were moneyless & far from home. They walked to Baltimore, got some of their funds from home sent there, & took a stagecoach back to Salesville. Davis showed back up in town 7 years later claiming he saw Dylkes “ascend into the heavens”. Davis left the next day & didn’t return to Salesville after that. He may have gone to his grave being the only person that ever knew the rest of Dylkes’s story. The man who once caused a relatively unparalleled commotion, the likes of which has never happened in any other Ohio town in history, Joseph C. Dylkes is now almost affectionately known as the Leatherwood God. His ghost reportedly haunts the Salesville area, occasionally appearing as a misty figure in a white robe.
The origin of Salesville’s town name seems to be a mystery. It was platted in 1835 on Clay Pike by George Brill (1776 – 1860), who moved to Ohio from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Researching the genealogy on his family hasn’t been easy to sort out. George had at least one wife, Mary Kagg Brill (1781 – 1859) & somewhere between 10 & 20 children. The town plats were quickly bought up & attracted new businesses. A Methodist church was built in 1840 to replace the aging temple. In 1855 Salesville got a train station on the B & O Railroad & the post office opened that same year. By 1870 the town had a hotel, grist & saw mill, a few grocery, dry goods, & hardware stores, a school, physician, & a blacksmith. In 1873 the Methodists built another new church which still stands at the intersection of SR 265 & SR 761.
Salesville’s population peaked around 1880 with nearly 300 residents. It began to decline over the next few decades & the town didn’t get any major businesses in the 1900s to support new growth. Salesville lost its post office in 2002. The population in 2012 was about 130. School #1 & school #2, both closed now, sit next to each other on SR 265 in town. George Brill was buried with many of his family members in Salesville Hill United Brethren Cemetery on Elegy Lane on the north side of town. Some of the other early settlers & residents were buried in Leatherwood Cemetery on Frankfort Rd, north of Salesville off of SR 265.
“Funeral For A Living Man” – Category: Exciting Event
Diffen (Fallen Timber) – Jefferson Township, Scioto County
Post Office: 1890 – 1904
Location: 38.929260 -82.937194
on Millers Run – Fallen Timber Rd at the 5-way intersection of Rose Hill Rd (County Rd 184), Sherborne Rd (Township Hwy 187), & Jacobs Cemetery Rd (Township Hwy 188)
Remnants: Victory Chapel in the northwest corner of the intersection, Jacobs Cemetery at the northern end of Jacobs Cemetery Rd, Fallen Timber Church on Millers Run – Fallen Timber Rd about 1/2 mile northwest of the GPS coordinates
Description: The town was founded by Irish immigrants John Diffen (born c. 1812 – 1879) & Catherine (Nolan) Diffin (1836 – 1898). It was a farming town & had a school on the Snyder farm between Coon Hollow Rd & Jacobs Cemetery Rd. John & Catherine Diffin had a few children & were buried with relatives in Jacobs Cemetery. Civil War veteran James H. McWilliams (1838 – 1906) was the postmaster & also served as a justice of the peace in Jefferson Township. James was buried with relatives in Greenlawn Cemetery on Offnere St in Portsmouth. An interesting story surrounding the town popped up in the late-1800s. Lorenzo Dow McKinney (1816 – 1904) was a widower & wanted to have his funeral services held on his 80th birthday, provided that he lived that long, so he could enjoy the festivities along with anyone who wanted to show up. He also vowed to get married again if he made it alive to the funeral. News of Lorenzo’s plans spread like wildfire across the country & was published in numerous papers with an attached picture of him. Lorenzo received over 100 letters from women all over the country to take him up on the marriage offer. As it turned out, Lorenzo was still alive on the 17th day of June in 1896. An estimated 6,000 – 8,000 people attended his living funeral in the grove at Fallen Timber Church on the Diffen family farm. Lorenzo thoroughly enjoyed the attention from reporters & the attendees, carrying those memories with him until he finally departed this world 8 years later. However, Lorenzo didn’t keep his promise to get married again. He was buried with relatives 6 & 1/2 miles southeast of Diffin in Squire Cemetery on SR 335 on the north side of Minford.
“Bloody Bridge” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Osman – Tiffin Township, Adams County
Post Office: 1854 – 1881 & 1888 – 1902
Location: 38.786097 -83.434263
on SR 348 between SR 125 & Compton Hill Rd
Remnants: Soldiers Run (Carson / Osman) Cemetery on private property on the west side of SR 125 about 1 & 1/2 miles west of the GPS coordinates
Description: It was founded by Simon Osman (1808 – 1876) & Mary Ann (Parks) Osman. They got married in 1832 & had a few children. Simon was tragically stabbed to death by members of the Easter family on the former wooden “Bloody Bridge” (Forge Dam Bridge) crossing Ohio Brush Creek on SR 125. As the story goes, the Osman & Easter families had already been feuding for many years. Local residents were having a picnic & celebration for the completion & opening of the newly constructed bridge in 1876. Simon had likely indulged in a bit too much alcohol & began crossing the bridge before the dedication ceremony began. James Easter & his sons took offense to that & started brawling with Simon. James stabbed Simon several times & one of Simon’s sons stabbed James Easter in return. Simon died from his wounds & the Easter family reportedly crossed the Ohio River to hide out in Kentucky. The town had a school on the northeast side of SR 125 about a 1/4 mile northwest of the GPS coordinates & a church on Satterfield Rd southeast of the cemetery. The post office moved around to the residences of the postmaster. The known holders of the office were David S. Black, William W. Ellison, W. W. Smith, Daniel Sutterfield, Cary A. McGovern, & John W. Jones.
“The Boxing Match” – Category: Exciting Event
Busenbark Station – St. Clair Township, Butler County
Location: 39.465994 -84.485713
on Busenbark Rd at the intersection of Hamilton Trenton Rd
Remnants: Ohio Historical Marker at the intersection
Description: It was founded by Robert Busenbark (1793 – 1872) & Margaret (Stout) Busenbark (1788 – 1879) who moved to Ohio from New Jersey. They had a large farm, a couple of children, & donated land for a school in 1833. Along with one of their sons, David (1819 – 1908), the Busenbarks donated land for a train station on the Cincinnati, Hamilton, & Dayton Railroad in the 1850s. The town also had a grain elevator, warehouse, & a water pump station which supplied electricity for the railroad when it was converted from steam trains. A local farm owned by Richter family, later the birthplace of Charles Richter who invented the earthquake scale, was the site of a bare-knuckle boxing Heavyweight Championship Of America match between the title holder Mike McCoole (1837 – 1886) & contender Aaron Jones on August 31, 1867. Thousands of fans rode in on trains to catch the outdoor match, with updates streaming across the country in near real-time by telegraph. The 34 round match lasted 26 minutes with Mike McCoole retaining his championship. Aaron Jones had a couple of broken ribs, a concussion, & internal bleeding, eventually resulting in his death a few weeks later in Cincinnati. Robert & Margaret Busenbark were buried with relatives in Elk Creek Baptist Church Pioneer Cemetery at the intersection of SR 73 (W State St) & Hamilton Trenton Rd.
“The Two-Time Hero” – Category: Odd Occurrences
Coles Mills – Troy Township, Delaware County
Post Office: 1841 – 1856
Location: 40.397626 -83.041113
on the west side of Horseshoe Rd (County Rd 220) along Delaware Lake
Remnants: Marlborough (Marlboro) Church & Cemetery 2 miles south of the GPS coordinates at the intersection of Horseshoe Rd & Leonardsburg Rd (County Rd 221)
Description: The town was founded by Joseph Cole (1775 – 1849) from New York & Mary (Curren) Cole (1778 – 1865) from Ireland. They made the journey to Ohio from Virginia in 1808, were early pioneers in the county, & had a few children. The first Baptist congregation in the county formed in the area in 1810. Joseph became a deacon, holding meetings in the Cole family cabin until 1819 when a log church was constructed with timber from the Cole property. Joseph built the first saw mill in the township in 1820, followed by a grist mill in 1823. They were on the Olentangy River, called Whetstone Creek at the time, just west of the GPS coordinates. The log church was dismantled in 1836 & moved to the Cole farm where it was used as a barn. A new frame church was constructed on the Cole farm near the GPS coordinates & was used until 1873 when a large brick church was built at a cost of $3,300. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1916 & was replaced later that same year by the present frame structure. The location of Marlborough Cemetery was also originally at the old church site. Both the cemetery & church were moved in 1950 by the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers during construction of the Delaware Dam. It’s uncertain if the exact locations of the saw mill, grist mill, former church, & cemetery were submerged by the creation of Delaware Lake in 1951. Some of the land in that area flooded & some was spared from the potential watery demise. Joseph & Mary Cole were buried with many relatives in Marlborough Cemetery, including one of their sons, Hugh Cole (1807 – 1887). Hugh once saved his father from downing at the mill dam site while repairs were being made. Joseph dislocated his right arm after falling off the dam & luckily caught the submerged branches of a sycamore tree through the swiftly moving waters. Hugh rushed in with a dugout canoe to grab Joseph who later stated he wouldn’t have been able to hang on much longer. In 1832, Hugh saved another man named Thomas Willey who capsized over the dam in a dugout along with Nathaniel Cozard. Hugh entered the water on horseback & caught Thomas by his hair as he was going under, likely for the last time. Nathaniel was found dead about a mile downstream.
“Milk Sickness” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Howell (North Alexandria) (White Town) – Rushcreek Township, Logan County
Post Office: 1830 – 1845
Location: 40.504153 -83.694889
on US 68 at the intersection of SR 273
Remnants: Miami Cemetery 2 miles southeast of the GPS coordinates at the intersection of Township Rd 51 E (T-51) & Co Rd 5
Description: The proprietors of the post office were Israel Howell from New York & Elizabeth (Hill) Howell who were married in Logan County in 1826. Israel was also former justice of the peace. William White platted North Alexandria at the location in 1832. It was often referred to as White Town. John Fry & Felt Bowers both ran general stores & the town had a log schoolhouse. We were unable to find extensive genealogy records on the town’s main residents. They were likely buried with currently unreadable gravestones along with their relatives in Miami Cemetery. John Deerwester Sr. laid out the cemetery in 1832 & ironically became the first interment. Over 20 of the residents buried in the cemetery reportedly perished from “milk sickness”, obtained by drinking milk from cows that were eating a poisonous weed called white snakeroot. The numbers of affected citizens in the state & Midwest were reduced as the land became better cultivated. One of the most famous people to perish from the same poisoning was Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy (Hanks) Lincoln, in 1818.
“The Tornado” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Wolfes (Wolf) – Harrison Township, Knox County
Post Office: 1844 – 1863
Location: 40.339954 -82.358157
on Hopewell Rd at the intersection of Grove Church Rd (County Rd 31)
Remnants: Union Grove Cemetery, old houses & farm buildings in the area
Description: The Wolfe family is of German descent & arrived in the county in the early-1800s. George Wolf was the first postmaster & held the office until the late-1850s. Simon Bonnet was his only known successor. The office was listed as Wolf in postal records. Union Grove Cemetery was established around 1823 & the original Disciple log church was built in 1832 on land owned by Nathaniel Ross (1794 – 1882) & Sarah (Hair) Ross (1794 – 1868). They married in 1817, moved to Ohio from Greene County, Pennsylvania, & had 8 children. A wood frame church replaced the log structure in 1841 & there was a school on the south side of Hopewell Rd east of the GPS coordinates. After surviving the “Burlington Storm” in May of 1825, a destructive tornado that caused much damage to the Ross farm & countless others in the state, another tornado swept through the area on September 2, 1845. One of the Ross daughters, Rachel Ann (1822 – 1845), was instantly killed by a falling log. Some of the houses & farm buildings near the GPS coordinates date back to the town’s postal days. Nathaniel & Sarah Ross, along with Rachel Ann & other relatives, were buried in Union Grove Cemetery. There are over 80 known Wolfe family members buried in the cemetery & many more scattered throughout the county.
“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” – Category: Odd Occurrences
Hooksburg, OH – (1841 – 1913 Muskingum River town partially destroyed by flood)
Classification: small town
Location: Windsor Township, Morgan County – On SR 376 south of the Oney Ridge Rd intersection
GPS coordinates: 39.585221 -81.782946
Hooksburg was founded by Captain Isaac Newton Hook (1819 – 1906) in 1841. He started learning navigation on the Muskingum River around the age of 10 & became a boat captain on the Ohio & Mississippi Rivers in 1835 while shipping supplies to New Orleans. Captain Hook bought a steam boat, then built another one called “Silverheels”, & also operated a general store from 1841 – 1846 on his land that came to be known as Hooksburg. He married Lucinda (Dearborn) Hook (1820 – 1862) in 1842 & had nine children.
The town acquired a train station on the B & O Railroad on the west side of the Muskingum River. Captain Hook would ferry people & supplies from Parkersburg, WV to Marietta, OH to catch the trains. During the Civil War, he was in command of a Union fleet of 4 steamboats & 8 barges that sent supplies for the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad which was hit hard by Confederate soldiers.
After the war & the death of his first wife, Captain Hook married Quitera (Wilson) Hook & had seven more children. He was a larger than life man that was also known to walk on 11 feet tall stilts at local parades & ice skate down the Muskingum River when it was frozen over. Hooksburg had a post office in 1872 & then again from 1882 – 1914. Captain Hook built his own gravestone shortly before his death in 1906 & ironically had a small boat placed on top of it so he could “row away if it flooded”. That may have happened just seven years later when the town was destroyed in the flood of 1913. The church was also washed away & Captain Hook’s gravestone boat was never seen again.
He is buried with his first wife at Brick Church Cemetery between the Muskingum River & SR 376 along with many other relatives & early Hooksburg families. In nearby Stockport, OH part of Ohio Historical Marker # 5-58 is dedicated to Captain Hook & the Stockport Mill Inn has a suite named after him.