by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
Today, getting into a vehicle, plane, boat, motorcycle and many others, we don't think twice about. They get us where we need to go without taking very long. Back in early history the choices were very different.
People in West Liberty could walk, maybe ride a bicycle, take a canoe down the Mad River, hop on their horse or hitch it up to a buggy for the family or to pick up supplies when you went to town. These were all normal at the time it but took much longer to get where you were going.
They didn't have roads like we do today but followed the old Indian trails. Sometimes in a low or swampy area they would lay down a corduroy road. These were made by placing sand covered logs perpendicular to the direction you were traveling.
Hulls Trace was a well known trail that General Hull's Army used to marched to Detroit, Michigan in 1812. This is now West Liberty's main street called Detroit Street.
The largest carriage maker in town was Simeon Atha. He had a wheel plant called The West Liberty Wheel Company that made 30 sets of wheels each day.
The West Liberty Mad River & Lake Erie Railroad came through town in the late 1800's. The first station was built by the M.R. & L.E. but exact location was not mentioned. The second train station was located at Baird and Miller Streets.
Later, the Big 4 had a cut off at West Liberty in 1926 and the station was by the track. This is the Depot station that was later moved to Marie's Candies, and is in use once again, just a bit differently.
There was also a depot station by King's Feed but it burned down. Mention was made of a depot station on Twp Rd 193 at Runkle Avenue. All prior stations were located on the old main line on Baird Street.
Margery Headings remembers taking the Trolley to Bellefontaine and back again when she was a teenager. The Trolley was part of an Interurban Electric Railway formed in 1907, consolidating with 14 smaller railways. It connected Toledo, Lima, Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati and smaller towns in between. At one time it had 617 miles of track, but went bankrupt in 1921. It's because of our ancestors who kept trying to improve on modes of transportation that we can get around much easier today.
Sources: The Heritage Collection History and Biography, Historic West Liberty, Ohio, and Wikipedia.
The church was constructed of logs near the crest of Ordway Hill west of West Liberty. Ordway was the name of a prominent business man in town who had a two story brick boot and shoe store. The church disbanded and part of the members formed the Glady Creek Church further west and the rest went to West Liberty where a church was organized.
Pastorate of the West Liberty Church also had McKees Creek Christian Church and later the Muchinippi Christian Church. In 1927 the named changed to Congregational Christian when the Congregational and Christian Churches united. In 1961, the church voted to become part of the United Church of Christ- merger of Congregational, Evangelical and Reformed denominations. The original Muddy Run Church is no longer, with only the cemetery remaining today on Township Road 195.
The West Liberty Methodist Church was organized in 1830 and was built on ground purchased from Thomas P. Miller. It was located on East Baird street and was later used as a residence and business room and later destroyed by fire. A better structured building was constructed in 1849. The pastor did a circuit of the Methodist, Wesley Chapel and Springhills churches in 1889.
The Early Church was a shouting church. Demonstrative and loud but very serious. 1905-1910 the Ladies Aid Society was busy making money for church improvements by selling meals at the Logan County Fair. Four ladies were the first to be elected to the board of stewards. This was the first record of woman holding office in the church.
In 1841, the 1st Presbyterian Church had no place to meet for worship so they accepted the offer of the Methodist Church to use their building. Then in 1842, the use of the old stone distillery became available. The Rev. W. B. Price told of the first communion service held at the new location. The former distillery had been infested with rats and the members were working on getting rid of them through the use of poison. The rats became sick to death during the service and now and then a rat would fall from the stone wall into the congregation. Thankfully the worshipers were to focused on the service that the barely noticed.
In 1890, during Sunday School, fire erupted in the belfry and the church was quickly evacuated. The building burned down except for the brick and stone. The windows, furniture, organ, library books, and other valuables were saved. The Lutheran Church was borrowed for services until a new building was completed in November of the same year.
McKees Creek Chapel has long been known as the “Little Church beside the road. It was built in 1859 beside the road between West Liberty and Bellefontaine. The road at that time was called Bellefontaine- West Liberty Pike and the church originally called McKees Creek Christian Church after the creek that ran through the valley at that time.
The church closed sometime for unknown reasons and reopened on February of 1884. McKees Creek ended it's association with the Christian Church in the summer of 1932. The church reopened in July of 1941 under the direction of the Evangelical Friends Church. In 1987 it no longer was affiliated with the Friends church and became a non-denominational church called McKees Creek Chapel.
South Union Mennonite Church was started with a group from an Amish settlement from Logan County. In 1845 Elders Moses Miller and Levi Miller helped organized a new church. Services were held in the family homes until 1857 when the first meeting house was built northwest of the present building.
Being built on the farm of John Kenagy and Bishop being Jacob C Kenagy it was called the Kenagy Church. A new name was given in 1868 of the King Church. Needing more space a new building was built in 1876 on the corner of Rt 68 and Rt 507. Then it received it's current name South Union Mennonite Church.
The Bethel Mennonite Church began out of the younger generation not wanting services in German language as was so in the older Mennonite Churches in the area. The younger folks wanted English spoken in Sunday School but was told no, so they began meeting in their homes. Their number grew so in 1895 plans began for a new building and was dedicated in 1896.
The church was struck by lightening in May of 1923 and was a total loss. It was rebuilt and completed by January 1st, 1924. The Bethel Mennonite Church was the first to hold Vacation Bible School in the community in 1935 and grew so much that in 1947 other churches began holding their own VBS. The Mennonite Children's Home, now known as being a part of Adriel School, housed many children and they attended the Bethel Church.
When many Amish Mennonites from Pennsylvania, Fairfield County, Ohio and Illinois relocated to West Liberty they had no church to serve their needs so the Champaign Church was started in 1845 in one of the homes. A church building was built in 1856 on Ludlow Road , about two miles from the present location.
The present house of worship was erected in 1875 and name changed to Oak Grove on Mennonite Church Road. In 1900, the church started a mid week prayer meeting in the homes but in 1901 they began using the church. These meeting were held because the Sunday School workers were attending a Quaker revival meeting near West Liberty.
When Benjamin and Elizabeth Piatt moved to the outskirts of West Liberty in 1828 the nearest Catholic Church was three hours away by horse and buggy. Elizabeth wanted her husband to build a church near their house but Benjamin thought that the sawmill and gristmill should be finished first because they brought in money.
One day when he was called off to Cincinnati on urgent business, Elizabeth told the workers to stop what they were doing and using wood cut for another project had them build a church. It was completed by the time Benjamin arrived home and was affectionately known as St. Elizabeth's Chapel or the Piatt Chapel. The chapel no longer exist but the cemetery is still there on Township Road 47 just down the road from the Piatt Cabin.
The Church of God was started after a member of Oak Grove attended a camp meeting in Anderson Indiana. He orchestrated a camp meeting in West Liberty and it was held on a farm southeast of the Ohio Caverns. Another meeting was held two years later in the same place. A school building at five points, (intersection of Co Rd 1 and Co Rd 5) was used to hold meetings when they were regularly held.
The church building was moved to the west side of town in 1910 on Taylor street. The Nazarene Church bought the building in 1924 and the present building was bought and they moved in on Liberty street. The property consisted of four lots and was purchased by Ezra Riehl.
Grace Chapel, under the belief that others from another state wanted to tell people how to and what to believe started a new church to get away from that as they wanted a biblical based church. The believers began meeting in a basement until funds could be saved to build.
They outgrew the basement but all they had money saved up for was a basement so they built the basement and covered it so they could hold meetings. They became known as, 'the groundhog church.” As they saved money they were able to add to the structure. In November of 1956, plans were underway and in December the started the building and it was dedicated in December of 1963.
The newest addition to our Church family took up residence in the former Vintage Inn Restaurant just north of West Liberty. Bill and Mary Walker moved to Bellefontaine after being called to start a church. Their first service was held on December 3, 2006 at The Friendly Senior Center in Bellefontaine. Needing more space they moved into their current building on South street in January of 2010. They broke ground for more space for a sanctuary, gathering space and offices being built to the current building.
Each church has it's stories of God's love, faith, family, fellowship, and are rich in history, missions, and helping the community.
Sources: Historical West Liberty, Ohio and Church Websites.
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries (Written in 2010)
It all started in 1897 because seventeen year old farm hand, Robert Noffsinger was curious. After a little digging in a low soft area of a field where rain water seemed to be disappearing quickly, he discovered a crevice which led into the caverns, today known as The Ohio Caverns. Located in the Northeastern part of Salem Township, outside of West Liberty: it is the largest cavern in Ohio and the most colorful of caverns in America.
Tours were offered the same year the cavern was discovered but they were not guided and you were on your own. By 1922, more passageways were opened, electric lights lit your path and a tour guide led the way. In 1925 the original section was closed and a new section was opened which included more beautiful scenery.
Today, tours are offered at frequent intervals, and while waiting for your tour to begin, you can browse the great souvenir gift shop, do a little gem mining or check out the 35 acre park.
Once you get started, you are thirty-five feet underground and the temperature is always a cool 54 degrees through out the year. As you weave through the path, sometimes narrow, many natural wonders meet your eyes. The Stalactites, which form from the ceiling down hang “Tite” to the ceiling and the Stalagmites created from the drips of water above, hope the “Mite” reach the ceiling someday.
When a Stalactite and Stalagmite grow to meet it is called a column. Duel formations can also be seen which means there is secondary growth. The Soda Straw, a small thin formation resembling a straw can be found. Another type of formation is called the Helactites, which form from the end of a straw growing at different angles, defying gravity. The beauty is breath taking!
Fifty-five feet, sixty-seven feet and at The Caveman's Couch you reach the half-way point. The lowest you go is 103 feet, yet you wouldn't guess that as you were walking. There is the Natural Bridge, Crystal Sea, The Old Town Pump and the Cert Rock Glasses. The following rooms are magnificent, The Fantasy Room, The Big Room Jewel Room, and The Palace of the Gods. Tucked into a recess is the oldest and move impressive formation of all, The Crystal King, which is 200,000 years old, five feet tall and growing!
The colors seen trough out are amazing! A beautiful mixture of different hues all naturally made by the hand of God. The Columbus Gray Limestone, Chert Rock and Blue Ohio Shale. Iron deposits make yellows, oranges and reds: while purples, blues and blacks are from Manganese deposits. Lets not forget the brilliant white from crystal formations.
An Historic Tour opened in 1997 celebrating 100 year anniversary, bringing an extension to the regular your by reopening the old 1987 section, to share the history of the Ohio Caverns. Either tour is a wonderful way to experience the beauty beneath us.
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
On Tuesday, March 25, 1913, the Miami Valley received 8 inches of rain in 48 hours, causing the Mad River to overflow its banks and cause the “Great Flood” in West Liberty and surrounding area.
In my grandfather Lee Roy Birt Sr.'s memoirs, he mentions the flood at a time when he was a lad of 9 years old.
“My father gave up working for the canning company and took a job on a large farm north of Urbana. The river runs north and south in Champaign County. They raised all the crops that you raised on an ordinary farm. We also tried onions, beets, turnips, fattened up a lot of cattle and sheep. It was here I met a young lady about 13 years old that was to later become my wife but I didn't know it at that time. This was back in 1913 when they had the big flood all up and down the river valley. There seemed to be water everywhere up around our house just ready to come in on the floor. The owner of the farm had cut a lot of wood and had it all corded up ready to haul out. The water took this wood to the fence rows and pulled the fences up, posts and all; and it took out many bridges, filled the old channels of Mad River in many places. They had to re-dredge old Mad River. I can remember that old dredge work for many cubic yards.”
If the flood wasn't already tragic enough, the rail road bridge south of West Liberty was weakened by the flood waters, collapsed under the weight of a Penn Locomotive as well as a Pullman sleeper and fell into to the raging waters at 1:00 am.
The Penn Passenger Train #3 was headed west from Columbus to Chicago via Urbana. It was stopped because of washouts in Piqua. Plans were to detour to Bellefontaine then west being pulled backward to Bellefontaine from Urbana; then west to Indianapolis Division Big Four to Union City then rejoin the Penn System.
The train's passengers were safe with only 7 injured. James Woods, Engineer and C. E. Tilton, Fireman, of Columbus sustained slight injuries and were found that day. The Conductor, Phil Henn, was rescued after 12 hours of water exposure. The only life lost because of the train accident was that of the Elwood Howell of Columbus, the Brakeman. His body was found 24 hours later lodged against a farm fence near Pimtown Road.
Crews were sent to recover the train cars from the muddy waters. This was not an easy task because when they put a pile trestle in place of the bridge, they drove piling through the trailer and ash pan of the engine. This made it impossible to raise the engine until the pilling could be removed. After reconstructing the trestle in part, it wasn't until August 12 that the first attempt was made to raise the engine. However the bed of one of the derricks (wreckers) broke a king-pin under the load and another derrick was called to the scene. The following day the engine and bridge spans were lifted. In spite of being under water for four and a half months the locomotive was found to be in good enough shape to repair and put back into service.
Photos used by permission of Bob McClure
#1- Looking south at the train in the flood waters.
#2- Rescue of the train Conductor Henn.
#3- Raising of the engine being pulled from the flood waters in August of 1913.
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
During West Liberty's first 85 years, businesses and some residences were hit by terrible fires 7 times. In August of 1884, the Mad River Creamery was destroyed by the acts of a daredevil. When the Presbyterian Church burned down in January of 1890, the fire was discovered during Sunday Church. It was suspected that sparks blew in the belfry setting fire to the bird nests there.
Crofts Saw Mill burned down in April of 1897 due to suspected incendiaries and the Cook House in February of 1899 for the same. In May of 1901, the West Liberty Creamery had a fire that was probably due to hot ashes piled in a corner of the engine room. The fire at the Dodson Saw Mill started above the boiler near the smoke stack in January of 1902.
The worst “Bad Fire” in West Liberty history happened on Thursday, May 13, 1880. At 3:00 in the afternoon a fire started in the stable of Mrs. Lymon Cook. Flames spread rapidly to another stable, ice house then to the businesses on both sides of the alley. It jumped across Detroit street and then north and south of the alley. Building after building and some residences fell to the flames. The fire reached the end of Baird street and continued around the corner destroying the buildings clear to the alley.
Fire departments in Bellefontaine and Urbana were summoned to help stop the flames. While waiting for help to arrive everyone able, men, women and children were busy removing goods from the buildings before the fire reached them. Fifty minutes after the call for help was raised the fire steamers arrived by rail car.
To add to this devastating fire, thieves and looters were helping themselves to the goods that were saved from the fire. The Mayor had to deputize men to help with that matter. Flames were finally extinguished around 6 pm but the firemen stayed an additional three hours to keep an eye on the ruins to make sure the fire did not reignite.
All in all, 31 business and 8 homes were lost that day but fortunately no lives were. The businesses included four grocery stores, two of the following, drug store, boot and show store, notion store, harness shop, and meat store. Also, one post office, millinery store, barber shop, billiard saloon, furniture store, ice house, doctor office, tin store, whiskey saloon, Odd Fellows Hall, dentistry rooms and bank. Two stables were mentioned and there were three unnamed.
The true origin of the fire remains unknown but there were several possibilities. One was Mrs. Cook's son was playing in the stable and accidentally started the fire or a tramp started the fire purposely.
Sources - West Liberty Library, Bob McClure
Picture - Map of West Liberty where fire destroyed businesses and residences.
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
There is an American Proverb that says, “Behind every great man there is a great woman.” I'd like to introduce you to one such woman, Elizabeth, wife of Benjamin Piatt. In 1828, the Piatt family came to West Liberty to live on a large farm and at that time the area was sparsely populated. None the less, Elizabeth worked hard to make it home.
There are 3 things that I admire the most about Elizabeth. Her love of children, her ability to get things done, and her compassion for others.
Benjamin and Elizabeth were blessed with 10 children. Daughters Hannah, Martha, Arabella with her infant daughter and sons, Donn and Abram, traveled to West Liberty to make it their home. Wykoff, the oldest, was an established lawyer in Cincinnati. Four other children died in infancy or early childhood.
They also had 3 girls they took in while in Cincinnati, all were married form the Piatt home. The 4th, Patsey, was a poor idiot girl. She was abused by her master, so Elizabeth trained her to be a good servant.
At Mac-A-Cheek, their home in West Liberty, they added 14 more children to their family. Five granddaughters and two grandsons went to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for awhile after the death of their mothers. Six more girls and one boy not related, also made their home with Benjamin and Elizabeth.
The Piatt's were of Catholic Faith. The nearest Catholic Church in Columbus, was 3 hours away by horse and buggy. Elizabeth wished for Benjamin to build her a church near their home. Benjamin was more inclined to build things like the sawmill that would bring in money first. One day Benjamin was called off to Cincinnati on urgent business. As soon as he left, Elizabeth told the workers to stop what they were doing and supervised the building of a log hewed chapel. She had them use the wood set aside for building a workshop. It was completed before Benjamin arrived home and was affectionately named St. Elizabeth Catholic Chapel.
Elizabeth was very compassionate toward the slaves and the ordeal they were going through to get to freedom. That is why she ran a stop on the Underground Railroad from her home. Benjamin was a Federal Court Circuit Judge, so it was his sworn duty to arrest anyone who helped the slaves escape. However, he and Elizabeth came up with a plan for her to run the stop while he was traveling for work. At the end of their gate stood a black lawn jockey. When Benjamin was gone a white flag was placed in the jockey's outstretched hand. When he was home the flag was removed signaling to the slaves that they should continue on to the next stop. Benjamin sent someone home a day early to give Elizabeth plenty of notice to make sure the slaves were gone by the time he arrived home. Since no records were kept on the Underground Railroad there are some who believe this to be true and some who don't.
Elizabeth was a pioneering woman who took care of her own and others, took charge when things needed done and changed the lives of the slaves who passed her way. She may not have been a well known figure from the history books, but think of all the people whose lives she touched and changed forever.
Sources- A Memorial Biography of Benjamin M. Piatt and Elizabeth, His Wife.
The Adopted Children of Elizabeth and Benjamin Piatt by David Boysel
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
The fascinating events of the past helped shape the Mac-O-Chee Valley into the great place it is today. Tom Corwin former Governor of Ohio, 1840-1842, said these words, “If there is a line, where Mac-O-Chee ends and Heaven begins, it is imperceptible- the easiest place to live and die in, I ever saw.”
Long before I made West Liberty my home, the valley was home to the Shawnee Indians. There were three Indian villages close to the area of where West Liberty would be located years later. Mac-O-Chee, was east of town, Pigeon Town was 3 ½ miles north west and Wapotomica was below Zanesfield.
The Mac-O-Chee villagers were the ones who gave the valley it's name- “Macachack”, which means “Smiling Valley.” The village was located on top of a hill overlooking one section of the Mac-O-Chee Creek. As the creek wound through the valley, it curved around the hill on which the Indians lived. When the Shawnee people gazed down upon the creek it appeared to be smiling at them. Thus the name, Smiling Valley. This Mac-O-Chee village was the head quarters of Chief Moluntha, Great Sachem of the assembled tribes.
It was after the Revolutionary War that the white man began encroaching on Shawnee Indian Territory. In 1785, a peace treaty was made with several tribes but the Shawnees refused to agree.
In the fall of 1786, Colonel Benjamin Logan, was commissioned by General Rogers Clark, to attack the Mac-O-Chee Towns. Logan sent Colonel Robert Patterson and Colonel Thomas Kennedy to the left and right wing, while he commanded the central division, with Colonel Daniel Boone and Major Simon Kenton leading the ranks.
The Indians were warned but not soon enough. Most warriors were hunting and the ones that weren't, were either killed or taken prisoner. Chief Moluntha, his three wives, one of which known as the Grenadier Squaw, the sister of Chief Cornstalk; and several children were also taken hostage.
Colonel Hugh McGary defied orders to leave the Indians who surrendered unharmed, and in a rage killed Chief Moluntha. It is said that the remaining Shawnees left the area and established settlements at Blanchard Fork, located in North West Ohio.
Even though the Mac-O-Chee village is no longer in existence, the legend of Squaw Rock remains and has been passed down for many generations. During the raid on Mac-O-Chee by Colonel Benjamin Logan, one of his soldiers spotted someone hiding behind a large rock at the edge of the village and thinking it was a brave, he took aim and shot. He went to check on his target and found he killed a squaw. Upon closer inspection he found a baby boy laying beside her. He was so filled with remorse that he buried the squaw at the base of the rock and took the baby home with him to raise as his own.
The man also had a young daughter and the two children grew up happily together. As they got older they became great friends and fell in love with each other. However, the girl was worried about what people thought of her marrying an Indian so she married a rich white suitor instead. The day after the couple were married they were found murdered in their cabin and the Indian boy was never seen again.
Squaw Rock still stands on the hill overlooking Smiling Valley even though that section of the Mac-O-Chee Creek is no more. It is a reminder that this land was special to those who lived here before in the beautiful Smiling Valley. West Liberty, our own little piece of heaven on earth, then and now.
Mac-O-Chee Valley by Miss Keren Jane Gaumer, Urbana William Mac-A-Cheek Piatt II Memorial Archive Memoirs of the Miami Valley
First picture used by permission of Dale Humble. Ariel view of West Liberty today.
Second picture (below) is used by permission of the Town Hall. West Liberty in 1910.
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
John Enoch (pictured left) spent eighteen years prospecting for gold before heading to the Miami Valley in the year 1815. It isn't known if he was hoping to strike gold but apparently what he did discover was well worth the trip. He was one of the early pioneers to settle in the valley, building a home then a gristmill which was powered by the Mad River and the Mac-O-Chee Creek.
The settlement was known as Enoch's Mill until being founded in 1817, then it was named West Liberty. In 1834 West Liberty was incorporated and vying for the main town in Logan County. Bellefontaine was more centrally located so they won the county seat.
In the late 1880's Enoch's Mill (pictured below), owned by Jacob Anstine, provided additional service by providing electricity when a dynamo was connected to the water wheel. Since there were no meters at each home users were trusted to use no more than five bulbs at once. The mill had a long history until it burned in a fire in 1962. Since it was not cost effective to rebuild, the mill was torn down.
In the Memoirs of the Miami Valley, published in 1920, it states, “West Liberty is a pretty town and shines where it stands against the background of it's green hill, with the waters of the Mad River and the “babbling Mac-O-Chee” silvering the plain at it's edge.”
Ask anyone today why West Liberty is special to them you will get a myriad of answers. James Fraley, “Getting a nickel from Ross McIlvain for being a good boy and sitting still for your haircut, and got a nickel form Doc. Mikesell for not crying when I got a shot.” Nina May says, “Because Michael's Pizza has the absolute best Taco Pizza!” “Large enough to enjoy a variety of activity and people, small enough to care for one another,” says Ellen Vitt. Joyce Hilyer, formally of West Liberty says, “West Liberty is in my heart to stay.”
So it's the size, people, memories, favorite restaurant, home town, birth place for some, heart, spirit and more, all rolled into a great place to live. John Enoch must have agreed since he lived the remainder of his life in West Liberty. He may not have struck gold but he did hit the mother lode when he found such a beautiful valley in which to call home.
Sources- Memoirs of the Miami Valley
Historic West Liberty Ohio Sesquicentennial Booklet
Picture - John Enoch, West Liberty Founder used by permission of Bob McClure
Picture two - The Old Enoch Mill used by permission of Bob McClure
West Liberty History Stories
West Liberty, Ohio was established in 1817. Read a sampling of our village's 200+ years of history or SUBMIT YOUR OWN STORY for all to enjoy!