Last week I made several casual references to “old” Huron County and its establishment. Thinking it over, I realized that some of my readers might not be familiar with the whole story of our county’s background. Of course, I did tell this same story in my very first column 36 years ago this week, but maybe some of my readers missed it then!
Connecticut citizens who lost private property during British raids in the American Revolution were given 500,000 acres of land as compensation at the western end of Connecticut’s Western Reserve of land in northern Ohio. This action took more than 10 years from the end of the Revolution, as the legislature argued that it had no funds for compensation, and finally settled on giving land at a certain value per acre.
Once the grant was approved to these Fire Sufferers, there was another long delay before a treaty with the Indians was accomplished and the United States was considered to legally own the land. The next step was to complete a survey of the land. This had to be done twice by Almon Ruggles, since the United States surveyor had made some major errors in establishing the south base line and the west line, which passes through the center of Bellevue.
Settlers were arriving almost before the survey was completed, but they found a true wilderness with only a few roads chopped through the woods; no bridges or graded hills on those roads; and just one store — the trading post of John B. Flamand at Huron. Thus, the establishment of local government was delayed until after the War of 1812 and until there were sufficient residents to operate the government.
The original Fire Sufferers Land (soon shortened to Fire Lands and Firelands) comprised what is now Huron and Erie Counties as well as Ruggles Township in Ashland County and Danbury Township (the Marblehead Peninsula) in Ottawa County. The two townships were set off to new counties when the old counties were cut into smaller pieces. Erie County was created in two actions — 1838 and 1840.
The first county seat was established by the Ohio Legislature at a town known as Huron on River Road north of Milan and South of Mason Road. This Huron no longer exists; the name was applied to the new town at the mouth of the river a few years later. This original town of Huron was sometimes called Avery as it was very close to the site of Fort Avery, a War of 1812 fortification.
The first term of Court was held at this town of Huron in 1815 and there was much dissatisfaction with the site. There was poor drinking water, no good stone for building use, and the river ran too swiftly to be damned for say mills and grist mills. Elisha Whittlesey, a Canfield, Ohio, attorney was at that first Court with a visitor, Platt Benedict. They and some other potential investors looked over the present site of Norwalk and determined to establish a town and make it the County Seat.
These things were accomplished and the first term of court was held in Norwalk in October of 1818. The first Courthouse was a two-story wooden building which stood in the front yard of the present courthouse. This served until a new courthouse was built in 1837. A part of that 1837 courthouse is still extant in the foundations and walls of the present building.