Event Person Place

1868: Early Reminiscences of Portsmouth

Digital Art: Portsmouth Early Reminiscences1

“Dear Times- I promised that when I received ‘Scioto’s’ second communication, you should hear from me again. That communication is before me, and now I proceed to fill that promise.”

Henry Massie agreed to give Francis Adam’s deed for that entire body of land then lying west of the old mill race from its head to its foot and bounded by the Scioto river, provided Adams would erect and keep in operation a mill the length of time specified in their contract, which I believe was five years; hence the strenuous efforts made to replace the mill whenever it was floated from its foundation by the spring floods. I think that Adams failed to perform his part of the contract and never obtained title to the land. The citizens generally gratuitously contributed largely in work toward digging the race and building the mills. They then resembled and behaved more like the members of one grand family than they do now, and each one was not so much for himself.”

“I have often gathered beech nuts that fell from the trees growing along on the top of the high bank, on the town side of the mill, west of where Fourth and Madison streets intersect. Large sycamores stood at the bottom of the hill along the bank of the mill race. So permanently was the foundation of that mill put in, that its remains served for many years as a bridge for boys who went to the bottom in search of cattle, nuts, and berries, and all other footmen to cross the race upon.”

“Your many readers will very naturally infer from the language of ‘Scioto’s’ article, that the first horse mill built by John Brown, was on the south-east corner of Vincent Brodbeck‘s lot. I think the writer does not mean to say so; and I also think that mill was built with a shed roof, on the north west corner of Brodbeck’s lot, and at the north end of Brown’s stable, described in my last effort. There was a very ancient log structure on the lot joining Brodbeck’s on the north, which afterwards had a frame addition put to it on the north end; the whole was weatherboarded and appeared to be a two story house in one. It was owned and sold by David Jones to David Gharky, in 1814.”

“The drain spoken of as starting above Chillicothe street and winding its way into the Scioto river below the lower end of town was called by the boys ‘The Big Gut.’ I have spent many a valuable hour in riding down it in small canoes and on rafts made mostly of coopers’ shavings. Second street was then full width at Scioto street; on the north side of Second, parallel with the east side of Scioto, close to where ‘Bob’ Wynn’s laborers exhumed the remains of a big Indian some twenty years ago, and while Captain Cleveland, your ‘illustrious predecessor,’ yet published the Democratic organ23 there once stood a cooper’s shop in which there was done a large, driving and prosperous business. The Big Gut was north of that shop, and still north of the Gut and between it and the Scioto bank, there was a strip of ground wide enough for the boys to play ball upon. It was called Brown’s meadow, and I have seen horses grazing on it and basking in the shade of full sized burr oak and beech trees. It would not be an exaggeration to say that when Portsmouth was first laid out, the south side of the Scioto river was as far north as the point of the tow path or the first lock in the canal.”

Thomas Morgan was not the first wheelwright in Scioto county, although he was the first person that engaged in that business in Portsmouth. Conrad Throne established a split-bottomed chair, wheel and reel manufactory, on the north side of the State road, at the base of the hill back of Alexandria, between the red house owned by Crane and the lane that runs back from the town to the hill. Throne made the most beautiful and durable work, some of which I think can be found in Portsmouth at this day, among the heirs of Thomas Waller, Samuel Gunn, David Gharky or Samuel M Tracy, if he has taken his leave of this world and gone to the spirit land. General Hovey4, Sam’s grandfather, figured conspicuously in those days, and Throne’s arm chairs were quite a luxury, enjoyed by only a few. He did all of his turning on that kind of lathe known as a spring pole. Throne died, and his widow5 married David Lewis, a man whose right arm and hand were so drawn up as to render them entirely useless, and he was quite lame in one leg; yet he could chop, split and put up three cords of wood in a day, in any kind of ordinary timber.”

Approximate location of Conrad Throne’s residence

“One of the first carpenters and joiners of Portsmouth, was John Simpson, father of Thomas, William, James, and their sisters. He located and lived at Alexandria, but went up to Portsmouth to work, because improvements were going on and there was a lively demand for carpenters, at good wages. His father taught school at Portsmouth, at a very early day, in a log cabin near to Second street, on the east side of the alley that runs north from where the Bacomb cabin stood.”

“The first public school house that was built in the city was a two story log house on Second street, south side, on the east side of the alley that runs north from the west end of Thomas Morgan’s house, not far below Chillicothe street. A storm blew that house down, together with some other houses, chimneys and fences, among which the brick house on the corner of Front and Jefferson, west side, built by Jacob Clingman, was a sufferer. The citizens put the roof on the school house, making it only one story high. Richard Morecraft taught school in that house at the same time that grandfather Simpson taught. Morecraft was a thoroughly educated man, a rigid teacher, and an accomplished gallant. He taught the larger scholars etiquette; and as there are so many parents at the present day opposed to sending their sons and daughters to dancing schools where that requisite is taught, would it not be a step forward to adopt Morecraft’s mode of teaching in our public schools, after it has been abolished for more than half a century? It seems to me that however rapidly we may have progressed in other respects, we have retrograded in that one at least.”

The Wheeler Academy, later, first Methodist Church, 18186

Joseph Wheeler, son-in-law of Charles Stratton, and brother-in-law to Hugh Cook, after he married his second wife, the widowed mother of Charles and Newsom Smith7, did much to promote the cause of education and advance the interests of common schools. He built what was called the Academy, on the west side of Market street, perhaps on the corner where that street joins Fourth, which was afterwards sold to the Methodists and used a long time as their only church. A many a happy time has Jacob Clingman, John R Turner, John Fryer, Senior, John Barker, and hosts of others had in that old house. Wheeler taught but a short time in it, when his amiable wife died, which so completely discouraged, prostrated and overcame him, that he abandoned teaching; but the interest that he awoke and the impetus that he gave to educational affairs, had a very beneficial influence on the citizens at large.”

“I notice that ‘Scioto’ speaks of ‘Crane’s Defeat’, a certain point on the Scioto river, without giving the origin of the name or cause of it being given to that place, which are as follows: At a very early day a man named Crane8, many years before Uncle Boswell and his brother Ora purchased the red house and landed property on Carey’s Run, of William Russel, was the owner and commander of a keel boat with which he navigated the Scioto river. The particular point named was extremely difficult to pass with boats while ascending the stream. The river was not at a good boating stage at the time alluded to. Crane was straining every nerve, crowding every hand and making every possible effort to get his boat through the difficult place, but the tremendous force of the rapid current repeatedly overpowered his men and beat back his boat. The indomitable spirits of that day knew no such word as fail, it never having been inserted into their vocabulary, and as frequently as the boat was forced back the hands rallied and poled her up again, until at length she was swept back, hurled upon a sawyer, stoved and sunk, and Crane was then and there defeated.”

“About eight hands were considered a full crew for such boats. The captain took the helm and streered the boat, directing the hands how to manage and what to do. In ascending difficult places like Crane’s Defeat, all hands would set their poles at the bow or forward end of the boat, four men on each side, and move her up stream until they had passed midship, when the captain would sing out in a musical voice, ‘head two;’ and the two men nearest the bow would break their sets, hasten up to the bow and re-set their poles, when the cry of ‘head four’ would be made by the commander and the next two men would hurry up and re-set their poles, and again would the captain give the command of ‘up behind; down on her my hearties,’ when the other four would rush up with their poles, consoling themselves at having gained one length of the boat.”

Pen and Ink Drawing of a Keelboat by Paul Rockwood9

“But to return. Chillicothe street was the original eastern boundary line of the city, and the northern portion of it, especially the eastern half or more of that part along the pond described as extending from the railroad depot to Lew Robinson’s residence, was laid out in what was called ‘out lots,’ which contained some three acres each; hence the numerous additions that have been made to the original plat.”

“Some large gum trees stood along the margins of that pond up to a comparatively recent date; and on a lot on the west side of Chillicothe, perhaps between Second and Third streets, there stood some large beech trees that Darby, who owned the lot, declared should be spared the woodsman until they brought him ten dollars each. I think he never realized that amount from those trees.”

“For the present I shall make no further promises for fear that I shall be compelled to violate them, but you may hear again from Shelawoy1011

  1. E, A. (2021, March 25). Portsmouth Early Reminiscences [Digital image]. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from www.wanderingappalachia.org All Rights Reserved
  2. The Democratic Inquirer
  3. The Portsmouth Daily Dispatch was first issued by Francis Cleveland and Jacob Miller on November 21, 1849, from the office of the Inquirer
  4. General Benjamin Hovey Born 12 March 1758 in Sutton, Worcester, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Died 1815 in Oxford, Chenango County, New York.
  5. Rebeckah Norman
  6. Lorberg, H. A. (n.d.). The Wheeler Academy Office of the City Clerks Office, Portsmouth, Ohio [Digital image]. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://www.yourppl.org/history/items/show/21101
  7. Luke Philpot Newson Smith
  8. The man is named as Robert Craine in the September 19, 1851 edition of the Portsmouth Inquirer
  9. Rockwood, P. (2013, February 28). Artifact JEFF-1407 [Pen and Ink Drawing of a Keelboat]. Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/jeff/blogs/pen-and-ink-drawing-of-a-keelboat.htm
  10. John Christian Gharky
  11. Early Reminiscences of Portsmouth. (1868, October 03). Portsmouth Times, p. 2.