Waterville Historical Society

your connection to the past

The Waterville Historical Society collects, preserves, provides access to, interprets and fosters an appreciation of history that has an impact on the Waterville, Ohio and surrounding area.

Waterville's History Detectives -- Waterville Dam

If you have watched the history detectives on WGTE Channel 30 you know they can find the answer to a history puzzle in less than one hour. We know of course it isn’t that easy and if they failed it would not make a very interesting program. Waterville has some very interesting history puzzles and when the Historical Society comes across (or stumbles upon usually) such a puzzle we have several members ready to take it on. We don’t have a paid staff of professional researchers and a multi-thousand dollar budget, but our volunteers will dig in with great enthusiasm. We often find more questions than answers but always know more than when we started. We will present a series of those “history detective” mysteries and hope that perhaps some of our readers may know more than we have so far found and will volunteer some additional information. All comments are welcome. Volunteer Randy Studer and Bob Chapman are our usual researchers assisted at times by Scott Duncan.

Mystery NO. 1: What and Where was the Waterville Dam? This one has a happy ending. We have encountered in various sources reference to “the Waterville Dam.”  None of us knew Waterville ever had a dam across the Maumee, hence the puzzle. We have found in working on another mystery the foundation of a concrete dam across the Maumee at the foot of Jerome Road that is prominent in Google Earth photos and easily seen in low water time. But our “Waterville Dam” Existed in the mid-1800s, too early for concrete. Then along came Gary Franks of Perrysburg, who visited the archives to do research on the Perrysburg Hydraulic Canal and everything fell into place. The Waterville Dam was built one mile north of Waterville at the edge of the Cobb farm in 1850 to provide a water source for a hydraulic canal (for water power only, not navigation) to power Perrysburg industries some five and one-half mile to the north. The dam was a timber dam and the remains are hard to see, consisting of only smoothing of the limestone river bed to anchor the base timbers. Armed with this knowledge our researchers visited the site. It ran across the river from the foot of Dutch Road (which no longer runs to the river) and of Roachton Road on the Wood County side. The canal and dam were abandoned in the early 1890s. We were able to provide Mr. Franks with photograph of the Wood County end of the dam dating to around 1884. Mr. Franks book on the Perrysburg Hydraulic Canal can be examined in the Wakeman Archives and will provide more details about the Waterville Dam.

Note: Watch for our next Waterville mystery.

Gas Station to a Restaurant ......Now a Memory

In 1929 a small gas station was built on River Road in Waterville, Ohio at the base of the Waterville Bridge. Since River Road was the main road going north to Maumee and Toledo, and south to Napoleon and Defiance it would be good location for a new gas station. Christian Haulund from Maumee, Ohio chose this location in Waterville for his new Hi-Speed Gas Station. He was a partner of the Greenwalt and Hauland Distributing Company from Maumee.  They had four Hi-Speed Gas stations, one in Waterville, one in Grand Rapids, Ohio and two in Maumee. Hi-Speed Gas was the brand name of gas and oil products from the Hickok Oil Company from Toledo. Grover Johnston, a WW I veteran from Waterville, was the operator of the Waterville Hi-Speed gas station. During WW II Haulund had to cut back in his gas and oil business because of gasoline rationing and shortages, so he closed his Waterville and Grand Rapids locations.  Grandson Thomas D. Hauland remembers riding along on the tanker truck hauling gas from Hickok Oil to his gas stations.

The old gas station building sat empty for a number of years during and after the war. Gordon Fritz and Cal Rady from Toledo remodeled the building and opened it on July 18, 1949 as the River Road Grill. Cal Rady was a partner in the Village Kitchen on South River Road for the previous four years. Gordon did an extensive remodeling of the old gas station building to be used as a restaurant. It had a small basement which I believe had been the grease pit that was used for lubricating cars when it was a gas station. This was turned in to a storage area and the water heater was located there also.

I found in the August 23, 1949 issue of the Anthony Wayne Standard, a featured advertisement for a Sunday chicken dinner at the River Road Grill. Cecile Weckerly and Cecile Bierbaum (known as the two Cecile’s) did the cooking, along with the River Road Grill girls- Doris Amstutz, Carol Gingrich, Jean Kerr and Jean Lahr. Bonnie Heminger was reminiscing to me one day and told me that she and her then boyfriend used to stop in 1951 at the River Road Grill. She said “Gordon sat down and talked to us like we were old friends,” and “Gordon reminded me of Arthur Godfrey.”

In August of 1957 the River Road Grille was sold to James M. & Lela L. Poole.  The Poole’s were the former proprietors of the Johnny’s Sandwich shop in Maumee. Apparently the Pooles could not make a go of it, so the property went back to Gordon Fritz in February of 1960 (per the property card).  In September of 1960 Tom and Clara Reynolds from Toledo took over the operation of the River Road Grill. They did not operate it very long ether. Richard “Dick” Neely took over the operation of the River Road Grille in 1961. In the mid 1960’s it was known has Neelys River Road Grill. Phyllis Witzler recalled it was breakfast hangout for older men and guys that played golf at Riverby Hills Golf Club on Saturday’s.

Dick Neely bought the business and property on February 6, 1968 from Madelyn Fritz. I believe a short time later he renamed the restaurant the Village Inn. I have pictures of the restaurant from that time frame and it shows the business as the Village Inn. That is the name I remember it by in 1971-78. In 1991 Joseph and Jennifer Lee bought the Village Inn and renamed it to Lee’s Restaurant featuring Chinese & American food. They also built an addition onto the front of the building for additional seating. I believe they added a bar at that time to serve alcohol also.

IMG_0004 (Medium).JPG

 In 1992, Pearl and Henry Fok opened The Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant which was located at 105 S 3rd Street where Shawn's Irish Tavern is located at now. In May of 1999, Jennifer Lee sold Pearl and Henry Fok the property at 38 N River and they moved the Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant to the new location. In 2016 the State of Ohio bought the restaurant property along with the house behind it for the approach for the new Waterville Bridge to be built alongside on the old bridge. Both buildings will be demolished in 2018. Today, January 16, 2018 the restaurant was taken down.

Note: written by Randy Studer

A Simple Gift Proves Very Important

We recently received a simple donation of a cemetery lot deed for Whitehouse Cemetery. The purchaser in 1928 was one James R. Hall. Since Waterville had two, seemingly unrelated, pioneer Hall families, we wondered if the name on this deed had a Waterville connection.

Some diligent internet research revealed that James Romaine Hall, born 1880, was the son of James M. Hall of Whitehouse and more interestingly he had two younger brothers, Newell born 1887 and Joseph Emmons Hall born 1892. Now those of you who are expert at Waterville history know that Joseph Emmons (J.E.) Hall was an early Waterville pioneer, well known as proprietor of the J.E. Hall Canal Store (located where Pray Park is now) and was also the first Mayor of Waterville in 1882. So what is the connection with James M. Hall and his two youngest sons? Waterville historians write that J.E. Hall and his brother Newell Hall came to Waterville in 1836 as young men and opened a taylor shop. Both soon became involved in other enterprises. Newell, we read, was the supervisor of a work gang doing canal construction and his young wife, who didn’t like to stay home alone in our wilderness, cooked for them. Newell later worked for the railroad and had a farm near Whitehouse. Joseph E. was involved in many enterprises besides his canal store and was a partner with John Lansing Pray at one time, operating the Whitehouse stone quarry.

Census records show that Newell Hall is the father of James M. Hall and that James M. Hall is the father of James Romaine Hall who bought the cemetery lot and also the two young brothers who were named after their grandfather and great-uncle respectively. James M. Hall is buried in the Whitehouse cemetery but the original Hall brothers, Joseph Emmons and Newell, are both in the Wakeman Cemetery. The simple gift of a cemetery deed has given us a three or more generation link to our prominent pioneer Hall families and also illustrates the strong historical link between our neighboring communities of Waterville and Whitehouse.


Every one of us has delightful memories of Christmas time that we cherish. Each year at this season in the same way as we unwrap and hang upon the tree our treasured ornaments, these Christmas days past are recalled and become a part of our Christmas Present. Here are some remembrances of Christmas as it was in Waterville years ago. In those days not every family had a Christmas tree. The exceptions were the German families. They all had a tree and from their example the custom spread. The families who decorated trees would go out into the country and cut their own. Isham’s Woods, located in the area bounded by Neowash Road, River Road and the Bucher farm was one of the favorite sites. The horse would be hitched to the sleigh, everyone would be bundled up and away they would go to find just the right tree. They cut small trees and also extra boughs to trim the homes with. The only large trees were those in the churches.

The trees were trimmed with ropes of cranberries and popcorn and tiny strings of miniature sleigh bells. Candles 5” to 6” in size were fitted into holder. The candles were only lit for a few minutes at a time, usually when the family gathered around the tree in the evening and sang Christmas hymns. The high point of the year would be the Christmas Eve service held in the churches: the Presbyterian Church at the northeast corner of River Road and North Street; the Methodist Church at the northwest corner of River Road and Mechanic Street; and the Lutheran Church then as now, on Second Street. Everyone attended church that evening. The sanctuaries would be lit by many candles and in the front would be a huge tree trimmed much the same as the ones at home. One of the members would be delegated to stand by with buckets of sand and water in case of fire. Christmas hymns were sung and then came the children’s part in the program. Various recitations were given, tableaux were arranged or simple re-enactments of the first Christmas would be presented. There would be a story for the children from the pastor. At the close of the service hard candy, nuts and oranges were given to all the children.

At that time almost every home had a fireplace from which to hang stocking and such stockings! Long cotton stockings were worn by both boys and girls and the older the child the more stocking there was to be filled. In the toe a large Brazil nut was usually to be found. There would be a fat peppermint stick; walnuts, butternuts, hickory and hazelnuts; an orange, which was always a special treat; mittens, made by mother or grandmother and perhaps a top or a small doll. Gifts were few and simple and were given mostly to the children; such as blocks, or jack-in-the-box, or slates with slate pencils, or jack straws for instance. Many gifts were handmade including items of clothing made by the women in the families as; sweaters, mufflers and stocking cap; or sleds or doll cradles made by the father.

Note: Christmas 1890, written by Mary Helen Huebner was found in an old scrapbook donated to the Archives recently.

A Souvenir from France

When the United States entered World War I in 1917 young men and women from this corner of Ohio, who never dreamed of even traveling to New York, found themselves on the way to France. Some found themselves mired in the unpleasant and dangerous muddy trenches at “the front,” Others had duties behind the front lines and the really lucky ones went through rigorous training in the United States but arrived in France late in 1918 after the major fighting was over. Most of these soldiers at some time in their duties got to see Paris and perhaps other major cities. As is common in war-torn areas with many friendly foreign troops around, a great number of “cottage industries” sprang up producing souvenir items to sell to eager foreign buyers. These included beautifully stitched and embroidered handkerchiefs and pillow covers to send home to loved ones, such as the one pictured here, carefully marked “Souvenir de France”. Many featured crossed French and American flags. Other popular items were photograph albums and picture postcards of war scenes, damaged buildings, or scenes of Paris.

One such avid souvenir buyer was Waterville’s own Albert Graf who volunteered for the army at age eighteen, arrived in France late in 1818 and was retained in France through much of 1819 with U.S. reconstruction forces. Albert was able to travel through much of France and his collection of military and French souvenirs was recently donated to the Wakeman Archives where they have been carefully preserved. These souvenir items, especially photographs, tell us much about the history of W.W. I and may be studied by the public anytime the Wakeman Archives is open.

To Stay or Leave or Escape

                Toledo House of Correction

The Toledo Welfare Farm also known as the “Workhouse” was located on Schadel Road near Whitehouse. They had one man who didn’t want to leave. His name was John Summit. It was not his real name. No one knew what his name was really. He was found on Summit Street in a dazed condition and couldn’t tell them his name in this condition. John was an immigrant from Austria with a poor command of English. He may have had family back in Austria. After spending a year at the workhouse for chronic vagrancy, he asked on February 2, 1925 at the age of 56 to stay there the rest of his life. He lived there for 33 years and died on October 14, 1958. He was an excellent farmer, kept a garden and built himself a home out of scrap lumber. He made a concrete cross where he worshiped and placed near his home. The cross could be seen at one time as you drove down Schadel Road near the complex.

Now there were others that didn’t want to stay. It has been said there was never a “break out” from this place but history in news articles tells us a different story. One inmate got a hacksaw, cut the bars of his cell but then stayed in the cell when he realized it was too cold outside and he had no coat. Some walked away during the outdoor recreation time, working in the quarry, etc. Several pried loose a bar and broke a dormitory window, wriggled through a 12” x 16” opening and dropped 10 feet to the ground.  In 1956 nine escaped with seven returned, eight in 1955 with five returned. The most that escaped in one year was 16. Of these eight escaped from work gangs, two were trustees assigned to the workhouse barn and six escaped from the dormitories between midnight and 1:00 a.m. but most of the escapees were recaptured. Usually when someone escaped the workhouse whistle would blow so neighboring farmers would know to be on the lookout. In one episode an 11-man posse stalked two escaped prisoners through five miles of muddy fields. They were captured as they were crawling in a soybean field near Whitehouse-Archbold Road by tracking them through the muddy field.

The grounds of the former Toledo House of Corrections or the Workhouse is now part of the Metroparks of the Toledo Area and the Blue Creek Conservation Area.

World War I Ends - Armistice Day

    Toledo Blade Extra - November 11, 1918

Armistice Day, the day the agreement to end the war was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. It was called the “great war” and the “war to end all wars” because the warfare was so terrible and the death toll so great from machine gun fire, heavy artillery, poison gas, submarine attacks, etc. that surely mankind could never sustain such a conflict again. How naive we were! The next generation would have to live through it all again.

It is hard to believe that only 99 years ago the world was such a different place. The copy of the Toledo Blade shown in our photo, dated November 11, 1918, talks of kings, princes, czars and other forms of royalty ruling much of Europe and mid-east at that time. Air warfare was in its infancy and played a minor role in that war. German submarines, on the other hand, took a terrible toll on shipping and led to shortages of food, fuel and some strategic materials. This, plus the need to supply our armed forces, led to rationing of food, fuel, rubber, etc. which the public supported with patriotic fervor. War bonds and saving stamps were sold to support the enormous cost of the war and women entered the labor force in large numbers for the first time in history. The end of the war under terms dictated the U.S. and allied forces changed the world map and many systems of government. The holiday known as Armistice Day has morphed into Veterans Day since World War II and subsequent conflicts.

Note: Next year will mark 100 years since World War I ended. The Waterville Historical Society will mark this significant event with displays of WW I artifacts, including this newspaper, at the Robbins House Museum. Watch our website and Facebook for information on these 2018 displays

Marjorie "Midge" Bucher Shufelt Campbell -- Waterville Historian

                Marjorie "Midge" Campbell

   Midge was one of our early historians. She amassed a large amount of information on families in the local area, Waterville area homes, plus history of her family. She also worked with other relatives of the Gunn and Isham families. She originally wanted to be an architect but in her day this was not a “woman’s job” and probably could not get a job in this field. This did not stop her from drawing plans for homes or remodeling homes. She restored three homes in the Waterville area.

   What Midge is most admired and remembered for here at the Wakeman Archives was her detailed research of families, homes, cemetery, etc. It seems that everything she touched she wrote down on 5 x 7 cards to await someone needing help in researching their family. What is great about these cards is that she always gives the source of the information; many times deed book and page number or who gave her the information. At one time she was a freelance writer for the Toledo Blade and Anthony Wayne Standard on the history of Waterville. Later she used these articles for her book Watervillore which was published just before she died. This volume is no longer in print but many copies exist. Many of the items in this book are about early Waterville settlers but they are also her early family relatives.

   All of her research is now located at the Toledo Lucas County Library at the Local History Department on the third floor. Anyone can view these many boxes by asking and signing a research paper for the Midge Campbell Collection #130. The Archives has a copy of the index that you can check out before making a trip to the library to see if there are things that you might want to view.

Rythm Ramblers Square Dance Club (1966‑200?)

Bea and Charlie Bard, Mary and Bill Kansorka, Ila Mae and Claren "Mouse" Mauer and Barbara and Dick Hahn. (Photo taken mid 1980s)

   The Rythm Ramblers Square Dance Club was a mainstream level club which meant that individuals who had graduated from the beginner lessons would be able to dance with them because the caller would be calling to that level. There were many levels of clubs, each level requiring more lessons and becoming more difficult. The western square dance lessons were taught by several different callers including; Bob Dibling of Fostoria, and Emett Iliff of Findlay. Harold “Sonny” McClellan of Bloomdale was the last one. The club callers called a dance for us once a month. The second dance of the month was called by a guest caller. They were usually from Ohio, Michigan or Indiana. During the summer Jerry Breckin (?) would call for Ramblers at Vollmer’s Park on Route 65 in Wood County.

   Club callers usually taught lessons. The classes were held in Waterville, Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Grand Rapids, Findlay (?) over the years. Each lesson lasting two and half hours at a cost of $3.50 per couple. The lessons were in a series of 15 lessons. Often the first lesson was free. The square dancing was not like what you may have learned at 4‑H camp or at school. This was modern Western dancing with new steps and new patterns that require the movement to music and new patterns to learn. It was stated that Western Square dancing was a growing hobby. In 1992 it was claimed there were over forty clubs listed in the Toledo Area Square Dance Callers Association Magazine. You first had to take lessons and then were prepared to attend regular dances by invitation to join. The club danced at Anthony Wayne South, and thenFallen Timbers School in Whitehouse on the first and third Saturdays during the winter and at Vollmar’s Park the same nights during the summer months.  In the later years they danced at the Waterville Recreation Building.  In 1996 they celebrated 30 years of dancing with a special event held at the Waterville Recreation Building.


Gold Star Mother's Day September 24, 2017

Gold Star Mother’s Day (September 24th this year) is observed in the United States on the last Sunday in September to honor our Gold Star Mothers. A Gold Star mother is a mother who has lost a son or daughter in active service of the United States Armed Forces. When a service person was on active duty, people would put a service flag in their window with blue stars for the number of family members in service. Then a service flag with a gold star denoted a family member had been killed while serving in the Armed Forces regardless of whether the circumstances of death involved hostile conflict or not. The practice started during World War I but a National organization of Gold Star Mothers was organized in 1928 which formalized the rules for membership and displaying the gold star service flag.

The Whitehouse American Legion Post 384 is looking for all Gold Star Mothers that are buried in the Anthony Wayne area. Those that been found in the Wakeman Cemetery are: Anna Sarah (Fischer) Noward, mother of Delvin Noward; Lydia (Studer) Christman, mother of Emery Christman; Evelyn Mae Kibbe Hussey, mother of Robert W. Infalt; Winnifred M. Buehler, mother of Conrad J. Buehler; Mary Helen Huebner, mother of Terry Lee Huebner, Agnes Graf, mother of Elsworth Graf; Bessie (Cobb) Waffle, mother of Leroy A. Waffle and Ella V. Campbell Gourley Fisher, mother of Robert Clark Gourley. Are there others that we have missed? Please send the information to the Waterville Historical Society.

Canal Builders – The Labor Side

We have written about men who came to this area to contract or manage the building of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Canal laborers, mostly Irish, are often depicted as drunken, brawling and poverty stricken; perhaps even expendable laborers. We have long suspected that this view only represented a minority of these men and offer the story of Irish immigrant Daniel Hartnett. Daniel was born in Ireland about 1795. He moved to Canada at some point and married Mary (1807-1885) about 1837. In 1840 Daniel, Mary and two young sons were living in Waterville along with four young men, assumed to be other canal workers. Daniel must have been able to save some money as when the canal was finished he purchased forty acres in Washington Twp., Henry County, close to the canal and near the Lucas County line. He thus became like many other immigrant pioneers, working to clear his land and support his family by subsistence farming. In 1850 he had cleared only 10 acres and added three more children to the family. Ten years later most of the farm was cleared and the family raised potatoes, corn and wheat along with livestock. The family thrived, his children married into neighboring pioneer families and his youngest son, Daniel A. Hartnett, served in the Civil War. The devout Irish Catholic family attended church at St. Patrick’s in near-by Providence and when Daniel, Sr. died in 1861 he was buried in the church cemetery.

Michael McBride, another Canal Builder

               Canal south of Waterville 

Michael McBride, was born in 1806 in Pennsylvania and spent his early years in his native state and in Buffalo, N.Y. working as a stonecutter. In 1838 he engaged with Camp and Cammeron in the construction of a few sections of the Maumee canal.  It is possible that McBride cut some of the stone blocks still visible in the locks at Side Cut Park.

McBride, Camp and Co. were contractors on and completed sections No. 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39 Wabash and Erie Canal at a cost of $154,268 in which D. Camp was the principal partner. They had problems with some of the canal and were awarded a contract to stone the banks of their part of the canal to make up any losses. Michael McBride was listed on the 1840 Census for Waterville Twp., Lucas County, Ohio with 9 males 20-30 yrs. of age and 8 males 30-40 yrs. of age, along with 1 female age 10-15 and 1 female 20-30 years of age. He married Joanna Kaily, a young Irish immigrant at Waterville in 1839.

The McBride Camp and Co. is also listed on the 1840 Waterville Twp., Lucas County, Ohio census with 5 male under 5 years of age; 7 males 5-10 yrs.; 3 males 20-30 yrs. of age and 5 males from 30-40 yrs. The females in this household are 2 under 5 yrs. and 6 females from 20-30 years of age and 2 females 30-40 years of age. We are also noticing there are a number of names on this list that may be Irish. This would have been during time of building the canal.

The construction of the Western Reserve and Maumee Road (Fremont Pike) was contracted at nearly the same time as the canal and under the charge of the same state engineer, a Mr. Dickinson. It seems natural then that Michael McBride also contracted a portion of that project. We are not sure if David Camp continued with him on the road construction. McBride in 1841 bought a farm of 96 acres on section 35 of Woodville Township south of the pike. So it was that Michael McBride left Waterville and became prominent resident of what would become the town of Woodville. He is credited with building and maintaining a well-known inn along the busy road he helped construct. The inn was demolished in 1969 when Route 20 was widened.

Waterville’s Nation Wide Grocery Chain

       Third Street, Waterville, Ohio

Waterville had a Nation –Wide Grocery Store located on Third Street in at least the 1940s. Nation-Wide was organized in the summer of 1921 to combine several grocery stores into a chain. They could buy for the chain but each store would operate as their own. They would have the name Nation-Wide listed on the store. As you see in this picture the sign is over the door and under the windows. We have also seen photos of stores on the East side of Toledo and one was at the Albon-Airport Road corner. There were rules that were followed as to the training of the store managers, such as making sure everyone was courteous and knowledgeable of the things they sold. They were to never allow a bin or shelf to look like they had run out of an item and to make it looked like it was full. After the person was accepted they would be trained as store managers in a company school for 2 weeks. They would be paid as if they were working at a store and would be trained in salesmanship, courtesy, and learn how to tactfully suggest items for sale and please their customers. They also taught the person how to order merchandise. After the schooling was over they were given the “rule-book” which outlined the policies of the corporation. In the 1960s Paul Fey owned the store, that he had brought from a Mr. Hoffman, and it was known as Paul’s Market located at 34 N. Third Street. I am not sure how long the Nation Wide Store existed here in Waterville or if the Paul’s Market was still part of the chain store. Can anyone tell us more about the Nation - Wide Store or how long it was in existence here in Waterville.   Of course Nation-Wide was not the first chain grocery store as Kroger dates back to the late 1880s.


Emma Knaggs Isham recipe for Rose Beads”

                  Emma Knaggs Isham

1.      Chose dark red fragrant roses, discarding all petals that are not fresh and crisp

2.      Reduce these petals to a pulp by putting through a food chopper daily for nine days

3.      They are then placed in a black iron pan. The older and blacker the better and are burned and stirred twice daily. If the pulp becomes too dry, so that it cracks when rolled, a little water should be worked in. Pinch off a piece of the pulp twice the desired size you wish for your beads.

4.      Then roll them one by one into sound balls in the palm of your hands, and let them aside to dry and shrink

5.      On the third day put them one by one in a little pitcher and roll them around and around until they become perfect spheres.

6.      Then place them with great care on long hat pins to dry – piece each exactly through the middle – pressing each bead gently.Added by Midge Shufelt: The beads will be coal black, with a dull finish. Grandma usually strung them with two or three small seed beads between each rose bead, sometimes of a different color, for contrast. Blend the entire mixture with a large quantity of patience. Some of the beads, which we still have retain their musty, spicy fragrance and are known to be 60-70 years old.

Donated by Ginny Dean – originally written on Waterville Butter Co. letterhead of which Emma’ husband Torry was a stockholder

The Canal Builder ----- John George Isham

                         John George Isham

John Isham was born in Sharon, New York in 1815. We know nothing of his childhood but the record indicates that he came to Waterville from Monroe, Michigan in 1840 when a good friend won a contract to build section 29 of the Wabash and Erie Canal. John served his friend as superintendent of construction on this section from Dutch Road to Maumee. When the canal opened to traffic in 1843 John was appointed superintendant of maintenance and repairs for the northern portion of the canal.

John George Isham found more than good work in Waterville. He fell in love with a very young Eliza Daggett and they married in 1843. He also purchased a farm on river tract 42 and the couple settled into a log cabin there.  John could work the farm in summer and supervise the repair work on the canal in winter when the canal was closed to most traffic. The couple had two children, Benjamin Smith Isham born 1843 and Alfred Daggett Isham born in 1846. Alfred was killed at Petersburg in 1865 during the Civil War. Eliza tragically died in 1848 just as John was starting to build the “big house” on is farm. John, with two young children to care for soon married Sarah Cooper, daughter of Waterville pioneer Henry Augustus Cooper. John and Sarah lived in the log cabin and three children were born to the couple before the big Greek Revival farm house was finished in 1853. Three more children were born in this house and the couple also raised five other children of close relatives. John served as superintendent of repair for over 20 years ending in the late 1860s when crippling arthritis forced his retirement. He moved to town in the 1870s purchasing the Morehouse home on River Road at Wood Street (now Farnsworth Road). He wasn’t happy there and moved back to the farm in the 1880s giving the town house to his daughter Sarah May and her husband Dr. Samuel Downs. John George Isham died at his farm on June 9, 1901. His youngest son John Findlay Torrence Isham (subject of a previous article on this site) took over the farm. The old house still stands at 8460 S. River Road just across from Farnsworth Park.

Author’s note: The only known picture of John George Isham was taken when he was old and sickly. He was obviously a robust hard-working man most of his life.


Canal Buildiers------Cornelius Van Fleet

                   Wabash and Erie Canal

Most of our canal builders came to Waterville because they had secured a contract for a portion of the canal. Cornelius Van Fleet however came to Waterville at age thirteen with his pioneering father in 1831. The Mathias Van Fleet family moved to Greene County, Ohio from Lycoming County, Pennsylvania in 1819 and later moved on to Waterville Township upon word of good farm land which could be purchased at very low price. Cornelius born on February 5, 1817 was the eldest of fourteen children born to Mathias and Mary Ricard Van Fleet. Mathias although a life-long farmer was very active in civic affairs and even served as a colonel in the Ohio Militia during the Ohio-Michigan “War”. Cornelius was well educated in spite of his frontier family circumstance and early on took up the occupation of civil engineering. Our sources are silent on his engineering education, but the normal practice at that time was to apprentice with a practicing professional. He must have been a bright and capable student because in 1837 at the age of 20 he contracted with the State of Ohio to be the engineer for the northern section of the Wabash and Erie Canal. Our sources tell us that Cornelius Van Fleet laid out the canal from Providence to Manhattan and was the engineer during the construction of this stretch of canal which opened in 1843. What an awesome responsibility for such a young man. That means that he determined and surveyed the course of this waterway and where locks and other structures would be placed. He also had to solve construction problems as the building progressed. When the canal was finished Cornelius was named superintendent of the Waterville section, a position which he held for eight years.

Cornelius Van Fleet married Hannah Runyan, also from Pennsylvania and they had eight children. He was engaged in the mercantile business at Waterville and later Maumee during and after his tenure with the canal. He later retired to his farm.

Canal Builders ----- Dodd and Steedman

Some of Waterville’s more prominent citizens came to this area because they obtained contracts for construction of some portion of the Miami and Erie Canal. Contracting partners Elijah Dodd and James B. Steedman were among these. Yes, that James B. Steedman – publisher, politician, forty-niner and Civil War hero – whom Toledo claims as their own. Elijah Dodd was an experienced contractor having completed a section of canal near Harrisburg, PA. James Steedman was his soon to be brother-in-law, a young man of varied interests, great charisma and perhaps a bit impetuous. The two came to Waterville in 1837 and stayed at the Columbian House until settled. Steedman soon moved to Napoleon to take over a newspaper publication and was married in Defiance in 1838 to Sarah Miranda Stiles, a sister to Dodd’s wife. The portion of the canal in their contract included the critical dam at Providence that created the slack water pool to provide water to the level stretch of canal between Providence and Toledo. The original dam was of wooden crib design, with stone abutments similar to the dam upstream near Defiance. This dam remained in place until the current concrete dam was built in 1908 by John Weckerly. The timber remains of this old dam can be seen just above the concrete dam when the water is very low. Dodd and Steedman were also paid $300 to build the canal overflow near Roche de Boeuf, sometimes called “the cascades.” The remains of this overflow can be seen at the east end of Farnsworth Park along the walking path.

James Steedman purchased the 160 acre Roche de Boeuf farm on River Tract 39, which covered the high ridge opposite the rock and down across the flood plain to the river. Years before in 1794 this was the site of General Anthony Wayne’s Fort Deposit. In 1838 Steedman was also in the publishing business in Napoleon and in the 1840s became involved in state government. In the 1850s he was in charge of the entire Miami and Erie Canal. He was also involved in the Ohio Militia movement and was instrumental in forming and naming the Waterville militia unit, the Brady Guards. Steedman apparently could not resist the call of adventure in 1849 when gold was discovered in California. He went west and left this family in the care of Elijah Dodd. When he returned he gratefully gave the farm to his brother-in-law and the area has been known as the Dodd farm ever since. Steedman, as we know, became a famous general during the Civil War and lived in Toledo before and afterwards. Not so well known is that his first wife Sarah Miranda Stiles Steedman and his eldest son, Lewis and his wife Edith are all buried in the Wakeman Cemetery. James B. is buried in Toledo’s Woodlawn Cemetery along with his second and third wives. His Civil War statue resides in Riverside Park along Summit Street.

Elijah Dodd remained in Waterville on the Dodd farm the rest of his life and was involved in mercantile enterprises as well as working the farm. He was twice elected sheriff of Lucas County and did live in Toledo for a time. Elijah died in 1876 and left the farm in charge one or more of his four sons who remained in Waterville. He is buried in Wakeman Cemetery. Elijah and his first wife Malvina Stiles had six children. She died ca1850 and he later married Mary Jane Wardley. Four children of this marriage survived childhood. His eldest son, Caleb was Captain of the Brady Guards and entered the Civil War with the unit as part of the 14th OVI for their 100 day enlistment into Northern Virginia. When that unit returned to Toledo, Caleb joined the Quartermaster Corps where he served through the War. Caleb died in Nashville, TN in 1865 while in service of his country. Urban growth overtook the Dodd farm in the 1900s as family homes and the village limits spread south.

Crossing the River --A New Bridge at Last

The old 1888 wagon bridge was broken down in July of 1941 by a heavy milk truck. World War II began shortly thereafter and all steel and much of the labor force went into the war effort. New automobiles were not made, gasoline and tires were rationed, all of which made the long detour to Maumee or Grand Rapids to cross over the river very impractical. Motorists were once again forced to ford the river when possible. Fording routes were marked with orange barrels (a time when motorist were happy to see orange barrels). The state did assist in building approaches to the old trolley bridge and deck that bridge for use by motor vehicles. The route was narrow but served the public for about six years until a new bridge could be built.

With the end of the War in late 1945, rationing ended, military men and women came home and new cars were on the market again. New homes were built farther from a person’s work place, including in the Village of Waterville. Travel by automobile became increasingly popular and the need for a new Waterville bridge was recognized by the State of Ohio. The bridge went from drawing board to construction phase in 1947 and the new steel truss bridge was opened to traffic in 1948, looking much as it does now. Due to unforeseen increase in traffic volume and heavier trucks following route 64, this bridge was in need of repairs after twenty-five years of service. The bridge was closed in 1988 to be reinforced, re-decked and the overhead clearance increased. The process was documented on film by Emery Noward and his photo album is preserved in the Wakeman Archives. This improved Waterville bridge is the one we use today. The handsome steel truss bridge has become impractical for today’s traffic and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has scheduled this bridge to be replaced, starting in 2018. A new bridge will be built right next to the old and the roadway will be closed for six to eight weeks to re-connect at either end, probably in 2020. Love it or hate it, this bridge will not grace our landscape much longer.

Crossing the River --------Waterville Bridge Celebration Week

newspaper bridge (Medium).jpg

The old wagon bridge, built in 1888, collapsed under a heavy milk truck on July 24, 1941 and the people of Waterville rejoiced. They had petitioned the State of Ohio for years to replace the aging and inadequate structure. The state had condemned the bridge but failed to replace it. Now finally something had to be done. We are not sure who suggested a temporary fix but O.D.O.T. was now willing to help. The abandoned Ohio Electric Interurban Bridge was available and at that time in good condition. The State willingly decked over the old bridge for auto traffic and built approaches at each end to connect to existing roads. This was “the fix” until a new highway bridge could be built. Unfortunately, on December 7, 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. There would be no steel for a new bridge until the war was over.

The temporary bridge finally opened to traffic in November 1941. The Waterville merchants were so happy to regain their Wood County customers they declared a week-long celebration. This was announced in the November 7, 1941 edition of the Standard newspaper in a special insert. Photographic images of several pages are included with this article. The merchants offered special sales or bargain rates for services (Note the Marathon station’s offer of complete fall changeover for $4.98)They also sponsored a free dance on Saturday November 15th at Witte’s Hall. This all shows how important a river crossing was to the economic well-being of the Village of Waterville. The “temporary” bridge served this community through the war and until the new bridge finally opened in 1947

Crossing the River -- The Iron Wagon Bridge

The need to cross the Maumee River barrier between Waterville and the near-by communities on the Wood County side has been with us from the beginning. The earlier methods of fording the river or crossing on the ferry barge were less than ideal and as the population increased totally inadequate. A bridge was needed. One or more wooden bridges were tried in the 1880s. These were fairly successful in Maumee City but the ice jams in late winter were more severe in this section of the river and the wooden bridges didn't last long. Even as today, technology came to the rescue. Better methods for making large iron structures led to replacing wooden trusses with iron. An iron truss bridge was built over the river in 1888 ushering in an era of unimpeded travel between the river communities. Because the mode of travel at that time was by foot or horse-drawn conveyances, this bridge is usually referred to as the “Wagon Bridge” by historians. Even through this bridge was stronger than wooden structures the, ice jams took out one or more spans on several occasions, but the bridge had become so important it was always repaired. The old wagon bridge carried the traffic between Waterville and Wood County for over fifty years, but the mode of transportation changed in that time. Automobiles and trucks were using a bridge designed for horse and wagon. In addition to that, this bridge had become part of the state highway system. By 1941 the old bridge had been condemned for many years but the state refused to replace it even though Waterville residents had petitioned for a replacement several times. Motorists ignored the signs for years, but finally in July 24, 1941 a truck carrying a load of milk broke down several spans of the bridge. Residents thought that finally the state would have to replace the bridge. But on Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and World War II was on. The bridge was not replaced until 1948.

P.O. Box 263,  Waterville, OH  43566            whs43566@outlook.com

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