Settlers & Incorporation of Vermilion Ohio

"Settling In"

Between 1808 and 1811 the first settlers struggled into the Township to claim land already surveyed by Almon Ruggles.  The area was part of a tract offered by the State of Connecticut to the Fire Sufferers whose property had been plundered by the British during the Revolutionary War. A section of Connecticut's Western Reserve, it was appropriately called the Firelands. And using the name the Indians had given the river; the Firelands Company named Township No. 6, Range 20, Vermilion.  However, so many years had passed and so much red tape was involved that most new arrivals were not the original Fire Sufferers, but those who had bought out claims of others.  The first to arrive from the East was William Hoddy (or Haddy), who came alone from Connecticut, built his cabin by the mouth of the river and then returned East for his family. So far as is known he did not come back into the area.

The following year the William Austins and Horatio Perry families arrived from New York; the George and John Sherods from Connecticut and Pennsylvania; and the Enoch Smiths from Connecticut. The Austins settled on the west bank of the river, the Sherods on land now known as Sherod Park. Sometime later in the year the Justin Thompson family came into the Township from Connecticut and settled on the Ridge.

Almon Ruggles came in with his family in 1810, as did Solomon Parsons, Benjamin Brooks, Barlow Sturges, Deacon John Beardsley and James Cuddeback. Peter Cuddeback and others came in 1811. According to the Firelands Pioneer, most came with teams.

As with the history of most settlements, the "firsts" have been carefully recorded:

The first house (cabin) was erected by the mouth of the river by William Hoddy in 1808; the first birth, John Sherod in 1809; the first marriage, Catherine Sherod to Burt Martin in 1814; the first frame house was Peter Cuddeback's (near the corner of Lake and Risden Roads) in 1818; the first stone house was William Austin's in 1821 and the first brick house was Horatio Perry's. The first commissioned Postmaster was Judge Almon Ruggles and the first doctor was Doctor Strong, although the first resident doctor was Dr. James Quigley in 1837. The first attorney, O. A. Leonard, announced his residency the same year.

Barlow Sturges began the first trading post and hotel. And together with the Austin family he ran the first ferry service across the Vermilion River. The first school was taught by Miss Susan Williams in a cabin on the lakeshore, in 1813. At about the same time another school was in operation on the Ridge and taught by Miss Addie Harris.

In 1818 the first organized religious society, the Presbyterian Church (later Congregational) was established. Ten years later the congregation built the first church, in an area just off Risden Road. This was the expected center of population.

In 1818 the Township government was organized with the following officers: Almon Ruggles, clerk; Peter Cuddeback and James Prentice, judges of election; Francis Keyes, John Beardsley and Rufus Judson, trustees; Jeramiah Van Ben Schoten and Horatio Perry, fence viewers; Peter Cuddeback lister and appraiser; Stephen Meeker, appraiser; Peter Cuddeback treasurer; George Sherod, Francis Keyes, William Van Ben Schoten and James Prentice, supervisors.

In the year 1820 the Vermilion township population was listed as 520.

Vermilion Village, 1837

With its clapboard buildings, giant maples and village square, Vermilion, at the time of incorporation, had the look of a typical New England hamlet. The little harbor community had just 43 land owners.  Several shops were now situated on Main, Columbus and Liberty Streets. Just a year before, a new warehouse had been erected near the shipping docks. To the left were the fish shanties, and to the right, a saw mill. Business was flourishing at Mr. Burton Goodsell's shipyards located on the riverbank between Lake and Ferry Streets, and in this particular year, the sounds of hammers and saws told of the construction of the steamboat Vermilion.  The village plat was completed in January and by a special act of the Ohio Legislature, Vermilion was incorporated and granted a charter.

The Pelton Wheel

Along with other "firsts", a mention should be made of Vermilion's first inventor, Lester Allen Pelton.  In 1849, he along with several young Vermilion men, made the long trek to California in search of gold. Although he never discovered his gold, Pelton later invented the Pelton Water Wheel which accounts say "meant more to the State of California that all the gold in the hills."  A handyman, carpenter and millwright, he built a small shed in the backyard of his landlady's house in the gold mining town of Camptonville, California, and spent his evenings tinkering with small experimental wheels. He hoped to harness water from the mountain streams for gold mining companies. He devised 40 models, including one that powered the landlady's sewing machine.  From this evolved his unique wheel that harnessed waterpower by a system of "water splitting." A model is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  By 1895, 850 companies were using his improved wheel. The Pacific Coast and Electric Company in 1980 was operating 53 Pelton Wheels. 

Mr. Pelton was born in the Risden Road home still occupied by his descendants, Mr. and Mrs. William Kishman. He was a student in the little Cuddebach School No. 2. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Vermilion. 

Brownhelm Township

According to the William's History of Lorain County the first settler of Township No. 6, Range 19 (Brownhelm) lying along Lake Erie and then a part of Huron County, was Col. Henry Brown from Stockbridge, Mass. who arrived about 1816. He was accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey, William Alverson, William Lincoln, Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley, who assisted Col. Brown in building his house, a log house near the lake shore. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter, the others remained on the grounds. The Township is named in honor of the leader of the original colony.

In later years Mr. Whittlesey became distinguished as a general in the Civil War, as an archaeologist and historian. He was the founder of the Western Reserve Historical Society and its president for many years. Peter Pease became the first settler of Oberlin. On July 4th, 1817 the families of Levi Shepard, Sylvester Barnum and Stephen James arrived and were the first families to settle in the town. During the same year the families of Solomon Whittlesey, Alva Curtis, Benjamin Bacon and Ebenezer Scott arrived. In 1818 the families of Col. Brown, Grandison Fairchild, Anson Cooper, Elisha Peck, George Bacon, Alfred Avery, Enos Cooley, Orrin Sage, John Graham and others arrived. The first frame house was built by Benjamin Bacon; the first brick house by Grandison Fairchild in the summer of 1819. Until October 1818 the town was part of Black River; it was then organized as a separate township. Officers were Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis, trustees; Anson Cooper, clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace. Lorain County was formed on December 26, 1822 with Brownhelm as a part. In 1827 Henry Warner started the Brownhelm quarry. Blocks were hauled on wagons to Vermilion where they were shipped via schooner.

In 1819 Mrs. Alverson opened a school in her house; in the fall of 1819 an 18 x 22 foot school was built on the brow of the hill (North Ridge Rd. and Claus Rd.) in the settlement and was named Strut Street School. In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on N. Ridge Rd. The first class of nine -- 5 boys and 4 girls graduated in 1889.  Brownhelm could also boast of a U.S. Post Office from November 6, 1878 to March 31, 1912 and a train station located at Brownhelm Station Rd, and Sunnyside Rd.

In the late 1950s the residents of Brownhelm voted to change zoning to permit the Ford Plant to build and, after losing the plant to Lorain in a heated court case, petitioned the Village of Vermilion for annexation. On December 21, 1959 the Village of Vermilion passed legislation to accept the petition and approximately 4,300 acres of Brownhelm Township, including Elberta Beach, became a part of Vermilion Village.


NEXT: River & Industry

 .