A Wellsville Short Story
The Village, then Town, and now City, of Wellsville had its beginnings
before Ohio became a state, and the area was part of the Northwest
Territory. Indians roamed the Ohio and Virginia side of the river,
and some were friendly and some were not, so the first white settlers
on the site of Wellsville were traders and trappers, and "squatters"
who stayed long enough to plant and harvest a crop of corn, or to
boil down salt from the springs near Yellow Creek.
The first permanent settlers were William and Ann Clark Wells. William purchased 304 acres of land (at $6.00 per acre) from one of the surveyors of the Seven Ranges, one Rober Johnson who had taken thirty townships in payment for his surveying fees. William Wells came in 1796, and settled his family in the log blockhouse built on the Virginia side of the river, as Indians were still in the area. He would take his son James with him, across the Ohio river by banoe, and James would stand "Indian watch" with the gun while the father planted the crops. In the spring of 1797, William Wells moved his family across the river and onto his land, building a log house near the mouth of Little Yellow Creek. This log house sheltered his family of five sons and five daughters, served as the "court" house from 1798 to 1803; and was also the meeting house of the local circuit-riding Methodist preachers. William Wells was commissioned a Justice of the Peace in 1798, his jurisdiction being "from the Muskingum on the west to Lake Erie on the north".
Aout 1800, Robert Boyce was hired as a school teacher, and classes were held in a log house on the farm of Robert Dobbins. William Wells paid for five pupils and Edward Devore (a colored man) paid for four pupils. This school operated before Ohio became a State. After 1803, when Ohio was admitted to the Union, other settlers began to move in. William Wells sold some of his land and a small settlement began to grow. He had built a building for the storage of grain near the riverband, and gradually the place became "Wells Landing".
In 1803, Henry Aten purchased land adjoining that of William Wells (from present 10th Street downriver). In 1803 he made his first trip downriver to New Orleans carrying a flatboat loaded with four to sell. He realized $6,000 on the first venture, and afterwards made four more trips to New Orleans, but twice had to walk the entire distance back to Wellsville as there was no other transportation.
Starting in 1803, settlers moved into the area adjacent to Wells' settlement, and having come directly from scotland, the settlement soon became known as "the Scotch settlement". Their land was all wooded, and the trading center was at the river, or Wells' Landing. Soon a saw-mill was built, then grist mills; then flatboats, and a ferry across the river to the Virginia side of the river. In 1814 the first free "mud turnpike" was laid from Wellsville to Lisbon. It was named "mud" as that was the usual condition of the roadbed during the spring thaws.
In 1823, William Wells had the Town Plat recorded in Lisbon, laying out town lots and naming the streets. Ten years later, the Village was incorporated and its first mayor was John Feehan, an Irishman. By this time, Wellsvile had become an important river terminal for the fifteen northern Ohio counties. As many as 50,000 barrels of flour annually were received at Wellsville for shipment upriver to Pittsburgh, or downriver to New Orleans. Sometimes more than 150 wagons would be lined up waiting to discharge freight for the river and relaod with merchandise for the interior. From 1832 to 1852, Wellsville was "river" town, with all the problems it involved. Fights between the rivermen and the cattle or wagon drivers were the usual practice. The road between the river landing at 3rd Street back to the hill was called "Tophet", a Hebrew word for Hell. One of the churches at the corner of 3rd Street was known as the "Church of the Brimstone Corner".
In 1827, Joseph Wells (one of William's sons) built the first school house, of red brick on Main Street. This building was used for Town meetings, as a place of worship by all denominations, and for large public gatherings of any kind. In 1833, William Wells donated lots to the various congregations to build their own "houses of worship" - the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Christians. He gave land for a cemetery, and later paid $750 for a stone fence to go around it "to keep the cows and pigs out". He also deeded to the Town Council the river wharf and buildings on the river, and "the revenue therefrom".
During this time of expansion and trade, many fine homes were built in the city, on the hillside and on the riverbank. William Wells and Henry Aten built stone houses in 1811, both of them are now destroyed. Henry Aten's house was the old River Museum, torn down in 1972 to build a new highway. The oldest house in the city seems to be the home of Richard Aten, one of Henry's sons. It is a stone house below 11th Street facing the river and built about 1836. Alexander Wells' home (one of Williams' sons) is at 525 Riverside, and is of old red brick "burned on the site" and erected in 1837. The Daniel Lawson home at 701 Riverside was built about 1842. Many of the old homes along Riverside were stations for the "Underground Railway" before and during the Civil war.
Since Wellsville was the closest point between the Ohio river and Lake Erie (97 miles), it soon became to be considered as the terminus for a railroad proposed in 1847. Many meetings took place and many factions tried to get the railroad built through "their" town; however, Wellsville raised $50,000 to help buld the railroad, and work proceeded slowly. The first train finally arrived in Wellsville from Cleveland on February 14, 1852. The track from Wellsville to Pittsburgh was finished in 1856. Three daily trains, both passenger and freight, arrived in Wellsville, with connections by riverboat or train, upriver to Pittsburgh or downriver to New Orleans.
The arrival of the railroad brought many new people into the city. In the first six months of 1854 forty-two new business places were built, that is, stores, warehouses, shops, hotel and dwellings. The Town Council built a Town Market House, and the streets were being graded.
In 1844, a crack Militia company was organized and Mayor Henry Cope was elected leader with a Captain rating. This company became known as the Wellsville Light Artillery and numbered 51 men. They carried a 12 pound Napoleon gun and paraded in a brilliant uniform consisting of red coats, white pants and stiff hat with a showy plume.
Wellsville was in a unique position during the time of the Civil War. It was a river town with steamboats regularly coming up from New Orleans, and with Hamilton, Virginia connected by the regular ferry boat service. The editor of the Wellsville Patriot was fefinitely against Abraham Lincoln, and stated it so plainly that he was "run out of town" in 1863 and a rival newspaper, the Wellsville Union started up. From 1850 onward, Wellsville was one of the stations on the Underground Railway system, passing slaves from Virginia (across the Ohio river) on to Salem and Lisbon and to Canada and freedom.
Wellsville was one of the stops on President Abraham Lincoln's journey from his home state back to Washinton for his second inauguration. A parade was held, many people gathered, and President Lincoln spoke from the rear platform of the train, to the assembled crowd, both for and against him. One Irishman spoke up and said that he never voted for Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln spoke to him and shook his hand.
Wellsville, of course, had its share in the War, sending many of its citizens into the Army, and having a bit of excitement in 1862, when a Confederate boat loaded with gunpowder at Pittsburgh was trying to get downriver. The citizens mounted their 12 lb. cannon on the riverbank and halted the gunboat, and returned the powder to Pittsburgh. Another much publicized happening was the keeping overnight in the Whitacre House, the confederate General John Hunt Morgan, captured near West Point in July of 1863. On of the little known stories is that various young men tried (unsuccessfully) to spirit him out of the hotel in the dark and across the river into Virginia.
After teh War, the Town settled down and new industry camein. The railroad tracks were originally laid down the dnter of town, and in 1857, the tracks were laid next to the riverbed so as to connect closer the railroad and river traffic. The depot was then built at Third Street, near the landing wharfs. An old picture shows the freight station in front of the Whitacre Hotel. The"yards" or car shops for the C&P Railroad were built at "lower end of city" in 1857, enlarged in 1865 and 1870. They employed 100 men to repair locomotives and care, build iron bridges, and sometimes build new locomotives. They were torn down in 1954. The beautiful park, on Broadway, for 5th to 9th Streets was originally where the railrod track was laid, with the passenger station at 6 Street. The city paid John Birch $110 to plant trees on that section of Broadway in 1895 and thus created a beautiful park area in the center of the city.
In 1866, the Jail House Committee purchased a lot and had erected the Town Jail. It as two-stories high of stone and brick. The first story served as a jail with three cells, and the upper story was the Town Hall, with rooms for the Marchall's office and the Mayor's office. The total cost, including lot, building and furniture was $4,252.39. This building is still standing on 5th Street, next to Maple Alley and owned by John Albaneso.
In 1856, Springhill cemetery was purchased and gradually the three cemeteries in town were removed and all burials were made at Springhill. In 1872, the cemetery lot at Main and 12th Streets was sold to the railroad and the bodies transferred to the new cemetery. That same year, the city had oil street lamps and hired their first lamplighter who was paid $20 a month. That year a bad smallpox epidemic occurred in the city, and two special hospitals were built to handle the smallpox victims.
In 1876 when the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of Independence Day, the Town Council met to decide what to do in Wellsville. The usual parade and fireworks were planned. The Town voted to give $100 for fireworks if private subscriptons would raise another $300. The Mayor was authorized to buy three medium-sized revolvers for use by the village police, and to purchase same before the celebration.
Potteries, foundries, car shops, sewer works and other businesses were prominent in the 1870's. The old and new roundhouse, blacksmith shops and paint shops were part of the railroad yards. In 1874, a group of "mechanics" from Pittsburgh proposed to build the first tin plate mill in the United States. The town gave land and money to the value of $16,000 to get this enterprise started. A total of $80,000 was invested when it was completed and started operations in 1874. Tariffs on foreign imports led to the downfall of this operation. Then went bankrupt in one year. Another company tried operations only to fail.
The entire operation went at Sheriff's sale in 1877 for $10,000. This property laid idle until later it was purchased by U.S. Steel, which opened as the American Tin Plate Company and operated a rolling mill. This company also had two hospitals which served the town. In the 1920's, this plant was consolidated with one across the river, and the whole enterprise was transferred to Gary, Indiana. This closing was a great blow to the finances of the town.
The Town beame a City of second class in December of 1889. A new City Hall was erected at a cost of $18,000 at the corner of 5th and Main Streets, and completed in December of 1893.
In the fall of 1912, Wellsville was honored by the visit in the town by President William Howard Taft. The same day, Teddy Roosevelt also campaigned here; and the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town. The local newpaper commented the "the Circus drew the biggest crowd".
Wellsville became famous in the 1930's due to the disasterous floods. The "big flood" of 1936 had a crest of 56 feet and much of the town was underwater. The following year, another flood added insult to injury. In 1938 the first million-dollar floodwall was built, the only one on the upper Ohio River. The filtration plant was also built that year, and in 1939, a gymnasium was erected, and a football stadium was built.
The city celebrated its 155th Anniversary in 1950 with a large celebration. The Governor of Ohio Frank Lausche, came to Wellsville twice in 1952 to participate in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the railroad from Cleveland to Wellsville, and to cut the ribbon on the new "super" highway linking Wellsville and East Liverpool.
Oil and sulfur companies have leased land on the river and now have river terminals at Wellsville. The river traffic is now heavy, with many tows passing Wellsville with 20 barges. The railroad yards are no longer in operation, but the railroad still runs many freight trains daily through the town.
Perhaps the greatest changes in the City of Wellsville have come about in the past 10 years. The tearing down of old buildings and landmarks to make way for new buildings, new highways, and other improvements has greatly changed the landscape.
The four-lane highway linking Wellsville to East Liverpool was the first change. This has been followed by the razing of the old MacDonald School, and now the old McKinley and Garfield schools, and the old City Hall. The rock formation called "Indian Head Rock" has been blasted out to make way for a four-lane highway through the city. This highway has also removed forever Buckeye Avenue and the homes located there. The places that were known as "hollows" are being filled in by the construction, and soon the landscape will have a different look. Old cemetery hill has changed, for the better.
The only thing not changed in the City is the people who live there. The view across the river into West Virginia is still beautiful, and the new schools and buildings will add to the city. The post office and City Hall and Fire Station and new additions.
The "long story" of Wellsville can easily be found - just
ask the old-timers about who lived there, or where did "so-and-so"
go, and the story will come out. One hundred and seventy-six years
is a long story. We could mention the feud over the Town Clock ordered
in 1857, but never paid for, nor installed in the tower of the M.E.
Church; or the argument over parking meters or no parking meters...history
repeats itself, and Wellsville is an old, old city.