Friday, January 24, 2014

Oberlin's 1812 Harrison Military Road Marker Revisited Part 2

I had mentioned back in my original post about the Harrison Military Road marker that it had been the subject of an article that I wrote for The Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette. Well, below is the article as it appeared in the publication's Fall 2012 issue.


Oberlin’s War of 1812 Monument Gone But Not Forgotten
By Dan Brady
With the 200th Anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812 comes renewed interest in the important events of the war. Here in Ohio, the scene of much of the fighting, there are a variety of historical sites, markers and monuments for those that are interested. In Oberlin, just west of town, there was a historical marker – a huge granite boulder with a plaque – that had been there since 1914. But it’s gone now, and what the marker commemorated – a crossing of the Harrison Military Road – is sadly forgotten. Here, then is the story of that road, as well as the marker and its rocky fate.
General William Henry Harrison (later the ninth President of the United States) had been put in command of the Army of the Northwest after the disastrous loss of Detroit to the British in August 1812. Harrison realized that the ability to move troops and supplies around Ohio was of critical importance to win the war. Thus he ordered the construction of various military roads by the troops.
General William Henry Harrison
The main “Harrison Military Road” passed through Fremont and was used to get to and from Ft. Meigs. But Harrison also had several small tributary military roads constructed through the thick forests that covered Ohio. One of them went from Wooster to what is now Ashland, and it was determined that the route be extended north to Lake Erie.
It was this road connecting Ashland to Lake Erie and passing through Oberlin that would later be honored with a marker.
It was sometimes called the Moonsinger Road, since Colonel Moonsinger and his troops built it under orders from General Harrison. From Ashland, it went north through Wellington, Pittsfield and just west of Oberlin. Then, it followed along the line of Beaver Creek to Amherst, before connecting with Lake Erie just west of Lorain at Oak Point. 
Although the road had no special significance during the War, it was used for the movement of troops in protecting the lakeshore and forts west, as well as a supply route. 
After the War of 1812, the road through the forest continued to be used for a period of approximately twenty years before falling into disuse and becoming covered with underbrush. But the still-visible road’s crossing through Oberlin attracted the attention of an Oberlin student who realized what it was and recognized its historical significance.
Dr. George Frederick Wright
That student would later be well known as Dr. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921), an American geologist with an interest in history who became a professor at Oberlin Theological Seminary. Years later, Wright also became President of the Ohio State Historical Society, and apparently would use his influence to make sure the military road passing through Oberlin was not forgotten.
One hundred years after the end of the War of 1812, the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) in Ohio decided to honor the old military road, as well as Wright’s discovery of it. The dedication of a large granite boulder (believed to be more than 10,000 years old) containing a plaque was to be the highlight of the 16th Annual Conference of the Ohio D.A.R. held in Oberlin in late October 1914.
The marker was placed on the south side of West Lorain Street, approximately a mile and a half west of Oberlin. The plaque had the following inscription:


The dedication ceremony took place on the old Reamer farm west of town.
Closeup of the tablet
Dr. Wright spoke at the marker’s unveiling of the road’s importance, and the work involved in its construction. Wright stated “It was one of the numerous roads made by Gen. Harrison by way of precaution. At the same time the significance is great because of the labor involved in its construction. The whole country was then covered with a dense forest of large, tall trees, many of which had to be cut down and the stumps removed to clear the way. Numerous bog holes, also, had to be made passable by corduroy roads, some of which are still remembered by our oldest citizens. Thus the road is a witness to the seriousness of the military situation in northern Ohio after Hull’s surrender of Detroit in 1812.”
He also noted, “The work of the D.A.R. in marking the place where this crossed one of the principal roads of Lorain County will serve to recall to the citizens of the county the toil which was expended and the hardships which were endured during the War of 1812 to preserve those institutions which now insure the peace and prosperity so abundantly enjoyed. It is hoped that other crossing places in other towns will in due time be marked in a similar manner.”
For many years, the marker stood on what was later designated Ohio State Route 10, approximately 300 yards west of the railroad tracks. By the late 1950s, however, it was largely ignored. The Lorain Journal in July 1959 observed, “Hundreds of motorists daily pass a large boulder on Rt. 10, just west of Oberlin, but most of them fail to notice it and perhaps only occasionally will some curious individual stop to read the inscription on the plaque attached to the huge rock.”
The newspaper noted that a few years earlier, the local D.A.R. chapter cleaned the plaque and planted evergreens on either side of the concrete base of the boulder. A rail fence and some shrubbery also created a tidy “park” setting.
In July of 1969, the marker received some publicity. It was the photographic subject of the “This is Oberlin” regular feature in The Oberlin News-Tribune. The simple photo caption read, “Col. Moonsinger was here in 1813, says plaque west of town.” 
Perhaps the marker would have been better off if it had continued to be ignored. According to the book Pictorial Memories of Oberlin, vandals removed the tablet in 1969. Today, there is no evidence that the marker was ever there in its former location on what is now Ohio State Route 511.
An observation by The Lorain Journal in its 1959 article highlighting the marker is sadly ironic in view of its final fate. As the paper noted, “Mortals make history, but often their deeds would be forgotten but for the monuments left by thoughtful individuals and organizations to kept the present forever linked with the past.”
After I was made aware that the tablet had been vandalized and removed, I spent a lot of time driving up and down Route 511 trying to see if perhaps the boulder to which the tablet was attached, or maybe its base, was still out there. (Why? Just curious, I guess.)
Here (below) is the stretch of today's Route 511 west of Oberlin city limits along which the tablet was located. To get your bearing, the top of the photo is north.

You can see the trail bed of the now removed railroad tracks at the extreme right of the photo. If the marker's location was truly "300 yards west of the railroad," that would put it just to the left of the farms and on the south side of the road, close to the highway.  
Photos of the marker show it seemingly in the middle of a field, so I guess that's where it was – somewhere.

Special thanks to the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette for permission to reproduce this article.


Jeff Sigsworth said...

Dan, the site of the 1812 Marker boulder is on my father's farm (part of the old Ben Dudley farm); when he first bought the property, he found the small fenced-in square plot adjacent to the road (now S.R. 511) -- and way back in the woods, on the southern end of his property, a large granite boulder with one squared-off side with 4 bolt holes (but no plaque).

Jon Dudley said...

Hi Jeff. Ben Dudley was my Grandfather. I always wonder how the old farm is holding up, especially the Old Barn. Maybe you could email me: Thanks! Jon Dudley