Historical Collections of Ohio

By Henry Howe


Vol. 1









[Of the many who contributed a paper to the first edition of this work, Col. Whittlesey was the only one living to contribute to the second edition and this is the paper.  He has not, we profoundly regret to have to say, lived to see it in print.  For a notice of its very eminent author the reader is referred to Cuyahoga county.]





WHEN Governor Ethan Allen BROWN became an ardent advocate for navigable canals in Ohio, he did not meet with the opposition which DeWitt CLINTON encountered in New York.  The leading men of this State, whether from Episcopal Virginia, Scotch-Irish New Jersey, Quaker Pennsylvania or Puritan New England, were endowed with broad views of public policy.  Many had seen military service from the old French war, through that of the Revolution, the Indian wars and that of 1812.

They foresaw the destiny of Ohio in case her affairs were administered judiciously.

Men who were not appalled by the scalping knife, or its directing Great Britain were equal to an encounter with the wilderness after peace was secured.

The hope and courage of our citizens, with a rich soil and a genial climate, constituted the resources of the State.

In response to Gov. Brown’s earnest recommendation, the legislature a committee to consider a plan for internal navigation in January, 1819.  Early in 1820 a call was made for information from all sources on that subject.  On the 21st of January, 1822, a joint resolution, appointing a canal Board, which consisted of Alfred KELLEY, Benjamin TAPPAN, Thomas WORTHINGTON, Isaac MENOR, Jeremiah MORROW and Ethan Allen BROWN, with power to cause surveys to be made for the improvement of the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville; and to examine four routes for a canal or canals from Lake Erie to the Ohio.  Six thousand dollars was appropriated for that purpose.

Prior to 1778, Capt. Thomas HUTCHINS, of the Provincial army and the inventor of the American System of Land Survey, had made a survey of the Falls, which re-

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sulted in a map and report of a plan to facilitate the progress of fiat-boats and their freight.

Neither instruments nor engineers could be procured by the commissioners to survey the rapids of the Ohio, and nothing was done by them in that direction.  James GEDDES, one of the engineers of the Erie canal in New York, was employed as chief engineer in Ohio, and Isaac JEROME was appointed assistant.  Only one leveling instrument could be obtained.  One or more of the commissioners were generally in the field with the engineers.  Several matters appear in the first report in the winter of 1822—23 well worthy of the attention of the present generation.  They were not promised and did not receive pay for their services.  Their personal expenses for 1822 amounted to one hundred and seventy-six dollars and forty- nine cents.

During the season over 800 miles of canal routes had been surveyed with one instrument at a cost, including services, of two thousand four hundred and twenty-six dollars and ten cents.

Such were the characters to whom were committed this great project to build up a growing State.  They had been directed to survey routes from Sandusky to the Ohio river; from the Maumee river to the Ohio river; from Lake Erie to the Ohio river by the Black and Muskingum rivers; also by the sources of the Cuyahoga, and from Lake Erie by the sources of the Grand and Mahoning rivers.

In December, 1822, a full and able report was made by Chief Engineer GEDDES and by the commissioners, including estimates on all the routes.  What is especially remarkable, the final construction came within the estimates.

To comprehend the task imposed upon the engineers and commissioners, the wilderness condition of the State in 1822 must be realized.  All the routes were along the valleys of streams, with only here and there a log-cabin, whose inmates were shivering with malarial fever.  These valleys were the most densely wooded parts, obstructed by swamps, bayous and flooded lands, which would now be regarded as impassable.

Between 1822 and 1829, Isaac JEROME, Seymour KIFF, John JONES, John BROWN, Peter LUTZ, Robert ANDERSON, Dyer MINOR and William LATIMER, of the engineers, died from their exposures and the diseases of the country.  Chain-men, axe-men and rod-men suffered in fully as great proportion.

Among the engineers who survived was David S. BATES (chief-engineer after Judge GEDDES, Alexander BOURNE, John BATES, William R. HOPKINS, Joseph RIDGEWAY, JR., Thomas I. MATTHERS, Samuel FORRER, Francis S. CLEVELAND, James M. BUCKLANG, Isaac N. HURD, Charles E. LYNCH, Philip N. WHITE, James H. MITCHELL and John S. BEARDSLEY, assistants.

During the construction of the canal, from 1825—35, many other engineers of reputation became resident engineers, among whom were Sebried DODGE, John V. ERWIN, who still survives, James H. McBRIDE, Leonder RANSOM, Richard HOWE and Sylvester MEDBURY.


In the published histories of Onondaga county, New York, Judge GEDDES occupies a conspicuous place.

He was born near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, July 22, 1763, of poor Scottish parents.  After working on the farm and teaching school until he was of age, he made a journey to Kentucky, intending to settle there, but was too much disgusted with slavery to become a resident.  In 1793 he prepared to manufacture salt at Onondaga lake, at a place since known as GEDDES, there being then no Syracuse.  After much deliberation, the Indians refused his presents and he departed, leaving the goods in their hands.  They solved the difficulty by adopting him as a white brother, and the salt business went on.  He was a self-made surveyor and civil engineer, and engaged upon the survey and construction of the Erie canal.  After his service in Ohio and the completion of the Erie canal, he was employed by the United States on the Chesapeake and Ohio canal until 1828.

In that year he was requested to survey a canal route from the Tennessee to the Altamaha, but declined in order to engage upon the Pennsylvania canals.  In

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person he was rather short and robust, but very active and capable of great endurance.  His disposition was genial, his manner cordial, inclined to be communicative.

Mr. George B. MERWIN, of Rockport, Cuyahoga county, remembers Judge GEDDES principally as a lover of buttermilk.  Mr. MERWIN, when a boy, was furnished with a pony and jug to scour the country up the valley to supply the surveying party with this drink, which does not intoxicate.



No engineer in Ohio spent as many years in the service of the State as did Mr. FORRER.  He came from Pennsylvania in 1818 and in 1819 was deputy surveyor of Hamilton county, 0.  In 1820, Mr. William Steele, a very enterprising citizen of Cincinnati, 0., employed Mr. FORRER at his own expense to ascertain the elevation of the Sandusky and Scioto summit, above Lake Erie.  His report was sent to the Legislature by Gov. Brown.  This was the favorite route, the shortest, lowest summit and passed through a very rich country.

The great question was a supply of water.  It would have been located and, in fact, was in part, when in the fall and summer of 1823 it was found by Judge D. S. Bates to be wholly inadequate.

Of twenty-three engineers and assistants, eight died of local diseases within six years.

Mr. FORRER was the only one able to keep the field permanently, and use the instruments in 1823.  When Judge Bates needed their only level, Mr. FORRER invented and constructed one that would now be a curiosity among engineers.  He named it the “Pioneer.”  It was in form of a round bar of wrought iron, with a cross like a capital T.  The top of the letter was a fiat bar welded at right angles, to which a telescope was made fast by solder, on which was a spirit level.  There was a projection drawn out from the cross-bar at right angles to it, which rested upon a circular plate of the tripod.  By means of thumb-screws and reversals, the round bar acting as a pendulum, a rude horizontal plane was obtained, which was of value at short range.

Mr. FORRER was not quite medium height but well formed and very active.  He was a cheerful and pleasant companion.  Judge Bates and the canal commissioners relied upon his skill under their instructions to test the water question in 1823.  He ran a line for a feeder from the Sandusky summit westerly and north of the watershed, taking up the waters of the Auglaize and heads of the Miami.  Even with the addition the supply was inadequate.  Until his death in 1873, Mr. FORRER was nearly all the time in the employ of the State as engineer, canal commissioner or member of the Board of Public Works.

He was not only popular but scrupulously honest and industrious.  His life-long friends regarded his death as a personal loss, greater than that of a faithful public officer.  He was too unobtrusive to make personal enemies, not neglecting his duties, as a citizen zealous but just.

He died at Dayton, Ohio, at 10 A. M., March 25, 1874, from the exhaustion of his physical powers, without pain.  Like his life he passed away in peace at the age of eighty, his mind clear and conscious of the approaching end.



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