Amazing Stories From Ohio History: Exciting Events, Odd Occurrences, and Terrible Tragedies

“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 and 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) and Esther (Winery) Wattles (1819 – 1908). They bought the land and 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 and 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 days later on December 13, 1847. The Wattles weren’t in the hall at the time and 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 and is now a private residence. Otis Wattles moved to Kansas with his wife and brother Augustus where they became friends with John Brown during the Civil War. Utopia wasn’t included in the 2010 census and the current population is less than 100 residents.

“The Leatherwood God” – Category: Odd Occurrence
Salesville, OH (1835 – present farming, mill, and 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, and Protestants from the colonial states and 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 and 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 and visited many homes of the most influential local residents. Despite his outlandish claims of having almighty powers and being immortal, Dylkes actually gained the following and trust of lots of people in town.

It created havoc for Salesville, and even led to violence on a few occasions, as friends and families were so quickly and 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 and 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 and chased Dylkes out of town pretty much running for his life.

After hiding out for a few weeks and evading capture by people still on the lookout for him, Dylkes showed back up in Salesville and 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, and 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 and said they would “meet back up in the big light”. Dylkes and Davis went one way and Brill and McCormick the other, never finding the big light or seeing Dylkes and Davis again. 

Brill and McCormick were moneyless and far from home. They walked to Baltimore, got some of their funds from home sent there, and 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 and 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) and somewhere between 10 and 20 children. The town plats were quickly bought up and 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 and the post office opened that same year. By 1870 the town had a hotel, grist and saw mill, a few grocery, dry goods, and hardware stores, a school, physician, and a blacksmith. In 1873 the Methodists built another new church which still stands at the intersection of SR 265 and SR 761.

Salesville’s population peaked around 1880 with nearly 300 residents. It began to decline over the next few decades and 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 and 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 and 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
Classification: ghost town
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), and 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 of a mile northwest of the GPS coordinates
Description: The town was founded by Irish immigrants John Diffen (born c. 1812 – 1879) and Catherine (Nolan) Diffin (1836 – 1898). It was a farming town and had a school on the Snyder farm between Coon Hollow Rd and Jacobs Cemetery Rd. John and Catherine Diffin had a few children and were buried with relatives in Jacobs Cemetery. Civil War veteran James H. McWilliams (1838 – 1906) was the postmaster and 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 and 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 and 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 on the Diffen family farm. Lorenzo thoroughly enjoyed the attention from reporters and 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. A great-grandson of Lorenzo, Gerald McKinney, also had a living funeral on June 7, 1965 at the Scioto County Fairgrounds in Portsmouth. His father wanted to do the same, but didn’t make it to the age of 80. Not wanting to take that chance, Gerald had his at age 42. Approximately 1,000 guests showed up, some friends and some complete strangers who just wanted to witness the spectacle. Gerald rode in the front seat of the hearse, wearing a dark suit and a dark tie, to attend his 80-minute service and subsequent reception.

“The Scioto Hermit” – Category: Odd Occurrence
Hewit (Hewitt) – Jefferson Township, Jackson County
Classification: ghost town
Post Office: 1897 – 1902
Location: 38.903558, -82.637171
on SR 279 at the intersection of 4 Mile Rd (Co Rd 11) along Hewitt Run
Remnants: none known
Description: It was a small farming and postal town with coal and lead mines in the area. There was also a church with a separate Sunday school building across the road on SR 279 just west of Paul Crabtree Rd (Township Hwy 42) on land owned by Thomas T. Jones (1805 – 1883) and Mary (Edwards) Jones (1806 – 1871). They were born in Wales, married in 1826, and moved to the U.S. in 1838. John Morris (1857 – 1931) was the first postmaster. He was succeeded by Stephen Crabtree. Everyone mentioned so far in this listing was buried with relatives in Horeb Cemetery about 1 1/2 miles east of the GPS coordinates on the south side of SR 279. However, the origin of the town name, and that of the stream which runs through it, is a much more interesting story. They were named after the man who has since been dubbed “The Scioto Hermit”, War of 1812 veteran William Hewitt (1764 – 1834) who moved to the area from Virginia and resided near the GPS coordinates for about 10 years. William remained another 23 years in Jackson County, living in caves and rudimentary cabins. He relocated into his last residence close to the Pike and Ross County border near Alma in 1820, a cave in the Scioto Valley where he spent the last 14 years of his life. There are 3 separate accounts of why William ended up living the life of a hermit, each said to have been shared in confidence by Hewitt himself to 3 different people he associated with over the years. One account, recorded in the 1900 Jackson county history book, is William’s father passed away just before he moved to Ohio and his family fiercely fought over the estate. Either being left out of the dividing, disgusted by it, or a little bit of both, William basically decided to become a hermit and not be influenced at all by worldy possessions. Another account, recorded in the 1871 Ross county history book, is he was married, left to go on a hunting hike, and didn’t expect to return for several days. William went back home that same night, encountered another man with his wife on the couch in their house, and left Virginia heartbroken. The third account, also recorded in the 1900 Jackson county history book, is pretty much the same as the second with the additional unconfirmed fact of William killing the encountered suitor. Whatever the true case was, William was famous even during his lifetime for his hermitage, especially during his last 14 years in the Scioto Valley cave. He passed away from pneumonia in Waverly while on a trading trip and was buried there. It was by no means the end of William’s strange tale though. Dr. William Blackstone (1796 – 1879), who attended to the hermit’s illness preceding his death, later exhumed Hewitt’s bones to mount a portion of the skeleton. That would, of course, be crazy and illegal these days, but it was a common scientific practice for physicians in the 1800s, usually with corpses that had no family to object to it. The doctor buried the leftover bones on his lot. They were discovered by a cellar digger in 1852, Edward Vester (1822 – 1902), who reinterred them in another part of the lot. Edward forgot about the discovery and accidentally dug them up again in 1883. The story of the bones hit the print news. A few days later Dr. Thomas Blackstone (1847 – 1912) of Circleville in Pickaway County, a nephew of William Blackstone, sent a letter stating that he had in his possession what he believed to be William Hewitt’s mounted skeleton, acquired from his departed uncle’s estate. The dug up bones were sent to Thomas and ended up being a perfect match, finally reuniting the skeleton after 50 years. What happened to the majority of it since then is a mystery, but the skull had been passed around Circleville as a gift over the following 66 years. The Ross County Historical Society received the skull by donation in 1949 and has preserved it ever since. Ironically, a monument to William Hewitt has almost endured as much chaos as the skeleton. It was erected in 1842 on top of his cave along what was back then the newly laid Columbus & Scioto Turnpike. The monument was moved to the state highway garage in Chillicothe in 1952. The road, present day US 23 / SR 104, was subsequently widened to 4 traffic lanes and unfortunately destroyed what was left of the cave. From there, the monument went to the entrance of the Scioto Trail State Park at the intersection of US 23 and SR 372 (Stoney Creek Rd). It now sits at what will hopefully be its final resting place near a replica log church in the Scioto Trail State Park campground at Caldwell Lake. William Hewitt’s ghost has reportedly been spotted wandering around George Hollow Rd and along the trails in the state park, enjoying the solitude he so desperately sought.

“The Explosion” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Sulphur Springs, OH – (mid-1800s – present farming and 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 and had a couple of saw mills and 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 and 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) and Margaret (Wilson) McDonald.

Lewis, Civil War veteran George Gaver (1820 – 1870) who owned the Lyons Flouring Mill, and George W. Gordon were in the store at the time. George Gaver was purchasing some rock blasting powder and 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, and the powder didn’t ignite. Lewis said that form of testing the powder wan’t fair and 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, and applied it to the powder. The entire store immediately exploded, badly burning the 3 men and partially burying them in debris.

One of Lewis’s toddler sons, Nirum (or Niram) McDonald (1866 – 1870) was playing just outside the door and was instantly killed. 13 year old John Priest (1857 – 1870) was also outside and likely about to enter the store. John’s clothes caught fire, so he ran to the nearest section of the creek and jumped in. A woman who was passing by witnessed the incident and 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 and George Gaver died a few hours later with Geroge W. Gordon being the only survivor of the tragedy.

Lewis, Nirum, and 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.

“A 35 Year Long Viewing” – Category: Odd Occurrence
Sabina, OH – (1830 – present farming and tourist town)

Classification: historic town

Location: Richland Township, Clinton County – On US 22 at the intersection of Howard St

GPS coordinates: 39.488367, -83.636620

Sabina was platted in 1830 by Warren Sabin and was incorporated in 1859. It became a tourist destination after an unknown man was found dead on the outskirts of town on June 9, 1929. A note with a Cincinnati mailing address was found in his pocket, but further investigation of that led to an empty parking lot. The man was embalmed and put on display in a small brick storage building next to the Littleton Funeral Home in Sabina. Over a million people from all around the world visited the corpse between 1929 and 1964, but no one could identify him. He was named Eugene by the townspeople and was finally laid to rest in Sabina Cemetery on Polk Ave.

“Bloody Bridge” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Osman – Tiffin  Township, Adams County
Classification: ghost town
Post Office:  1854 – 1881 and 1888 – 1902
Location: 38.786097, -83.434263
on SR 348 between SR 125 and 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) and Mary Ann (Parks) Osman. They got married in 1832 and 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 and Easter families were already feuding for many years. Local residents were having a picnic and celebration for the completion and opening of the newly constructed bridge in 1876. Simon had likely indulged in a bit too much alcohol and began crossing the bridge before the dedication ceremony began. James Easter and his sons took offense to that and started brawling with Simon. James stabbed Simon several times and one of Simon’s sons stabbed James Easter in return. Simon died from his wounds and 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 1/4 of a mile northwest of the GPS coordinates and 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, C. W. Foster, Daniel Sutterfield, John W. Jones, and Cary A. McGovney.

“The Boxing Match” – Category: Exciting Event
Busenbark Station – St. Clair Township, Butler County
Classification: ghost town
Location: 39.466081, -84.485778 
on Hamilton Trenton Rd (Trenton Ave) at the intersection of Busenbark Rd
Remnants: historical marker on the west side of Busenbark Rd just south of the GPS coordinates
Description: It was founded by Robert Busenbark (1793 – 1872) and Margaret (Stout) Busenbark (1788 – 1879) who moved to Ohio from New Jersey. They had a large farm, a couple of children, and 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, and 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) and 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, and internal bleeding, eventually resulting in his death a few weeks later in Cincinnati. Robert and Margaret Busenbark were buried with relatives in Baptist (Elk Creek Baptist Church Pioneer) Cemetery at the intersection of SR 73 (W State St) and Hamilton Trenton Rd (Hamilton Ave).

“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 and became a boat captain on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 1835 while shipping supplies to New Orleans. Captain Hook bought a steamboat, then built another one called Silverheels, and 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 and had 9 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 and 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 and 8 barges that sent supplies for the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad which was hit hard by Confederate soldiers.

After the war and the death of his first wife, Captain Hook married Quitera (Wilson) Hook and had 7 more children. He was a larger than life man that was also known to walk on 11 feet tall stilts at local parades and ice skate down the Muskingum River when it was frozen over. Hooksburg had a post office in 1872 and then again from 1882 – 1914. Captain Hook built his own gravestone shortly before his death in 1906 and ironically had a small boat placed on top of it so he could “row away if it flooded”. That may have happened just 7 years later when the town was destroyed in the flood of 1913. The church was also washed away and Captain Hook’s gravestone boat was never seen again.

Isaac was buried with his first wife at Brick Church Cemetery between the Muskingum River and SR 376 along with many other relatives and early Hooksburg families. In nearby Stockport, OH part of Ohio Historical Marker # 5-58 is dedicated to Captain Hook and the Stockport Mill Inn has a suite named after him.

“Milk Sickness” – Category: Terrible Tragedy
Howell (North Alexandria) (White Town) – Rushcreek Township, Logan County
Classification: ghost town
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) and Co Rd 5
Description: The proprietors of the post office were Israel Howell from New York and 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 and Felt Bowers both ran general stores and 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 and 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 and 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.