The History of Union Township, Clermnt County
Clermont County was established in 1800, three full years before Ohio became a state. At its establishment in 1811, Union Township became a significant part of that county, a distinction that continues to this day, as the largest and most populous township in the county. As part of the Northwest Territory, the Virginia Military District was formed when the 13 colonies became the United States and Virginia relinquished her claim to the territory north of the Ohio River. This land would be offered to the soldiers who fought for America’s freedom in the Revolutionary War with Britain. Although many soldiers who originally owned the land did not settle here, those who did came because the area was fertile and the streams were plentiful. Agriculture would become a sustaining way of life, even into the 20th century. The first community in Union Township was Withamsville, and the districts of Tobasco, Mount Carmel, Summerside and Tealtown soon followed. Glen Este began as a farm owned by Daniel Este of Mount Carmel. The 1820 U.S. Census, the first since Union Township’s creation, numbers its citizens at 1,165. The majority, or 85 percent, were engaged in farming, with 15 percent listed under commerce. These are the facts, but what do we really know about this land under our feet and the brave souls who came in the late 1700s and early 1800s to eke out a living in what they thought was a wild and untamed land, yet a land that was abundant in natural resources and full of opportunity? Who were the faces behind the toil, and how did they live their lives? With the help of Stanley Earl Wilfert and Alma Aicholtz Smith, two Union Township historians, and Rick Grgetic, of the Clermont County Historical Society, as well as the loan of some pictures from the Clermont County Historical Society, following are tidbits of life in the 19th and 20th centuries in this township we call home.
How Townships Began
The Pilgrim fathers brought the township form of government to America in 1620. This unit of local government eventually spread as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Today, it is found in 20 states, known as the town or township.In Ohio, the township predates our state government. The townships’ size and shape were determined by the Congressional Acts, which established the various land grants. Within each of the Ohio land grants, Congress set aside sections of land for the use of schools and the support of religious institutions.As the Oho territory became populated, it was only natural that the surveyed townships should become the basic unit of local government. In 1804, the elected officials of a township consisted of three trustees, a clerk, two overseers of the poor, and a sufficient number of supervisors of highway — in addition to justices of the peace and constables.In the early years of statehood, Ohio township government cared for the poor, maintained the roads and preserved the peace.Today, just as in 1804, the township is a political subdivision of the state. To keep pace with the demands of changing times, the functions, duties and obligations of the township have changed over the years. Demands for increased or different services have prompted the state legislature to grant Ohio’s 1,308 townships the authority to fulfill these changing needs.Three trustees and a fiscal officer, each elected to a four-year term, administer our townships today. Additionally, some townships now appoint a township administrator, whose duties are defined by the Ohio Revised Code and the individual township. The township administrator typically helps plan, coordinate and implement township goals.Elected officials fill their roles on a part-time basis. Their intimate knowledge of their community, its needs and its citizens enables them to offer more personal service than any other unit of government.
Along with the kind of farming we would expect in this region, Greater Cincinnati, including parts of Union Township, were prime locations for producing wine. The Catawba grape thrived in the Ohio River Valley and was hearty enough to withstand the harsh Ohio winters. Farmers in Union Township took advantage of this industry, contributing to the distinction of the state leading the country in wine production by 1860. “The English settled the area first, and then the Germans came,” Wilfert said. “The area reminded them of the Rhineland.” And Germany produced wine. Wilfert said families would bring over other families from the “old country” with the promise of a house in return for work. “Later, after some success, the farmers would give their workers a better house and some land,” Wilfert said. It was this system that contributed to pockets of land being given over to different ethnicities, like the German section, or the English section, or the Scandinavian section. However, crop diseases, such as black rot and mildew, began to plague the grapes, and then the Civil War left grape growers with little manpower. Those who were left behind had to focus their attention and labors on what they themselves needed.
THE SUPPLY CHAIN
As the population grew, so too did the needs of the families that could not be met at home. So it was in about 1816 that the Widow Britton opened the first general store in Union Township. Throughout the 19th century, these stores cropped up, many of which were owned by names familiar even today. In 1868, E. Bennett established his first store, later known as H. R. Bennett. Within this store was a post office, predating our own Civic Center. Bennett’s store was located on State Route 125 in Withamsville and Wilfert said it would have sold straw hats, overalls, groceries and fabric, among many and various sundries. Cheese would be purchased by a cut from a huge round. In the summer, the store would have bushels of fresh produce out front. In the picture to the right, circa 1900, from left to right are Dr. Cass Bennett, John Hatfield, and Harvey R. Bennett. The Bennetts were brothers and Harvey owned the store. Carrying on the tradition of shopkeeping, the Tobasco Store, situated on the southwest corner of what is now Nine Mile Road and Ohio Pike, was a popular gathering place for the men of the neighborhood. The social camaraderie of men would take place around the warm stove in the winters and out on the porch in the nicer weather. Kids would come out and listen to the talk of their elders. All this, of course, in the hours when farm and home chores were put away for the day. The group in the photo to the left, circa 1913, were known as “The Boys of Tobasco.”
Union Township was considered wilderness when the first settlers starting relocating here in the 1790s. After the land was surveyed and sold, settlements were created for the protection of the pioneers from “ … savages and wild beasts.” Then land was cleared for homesteads and farms, and paths were cleared and later widened for wagon travel. As early as 1798, a toll road was built between Newtown and Williamsburg. Often referred to as the State Road, when the bridge was built across the Little Miami River in 1836, it was known as The Turnpike from Union Bridge to Batavia, or simply, Cincinnati-Batavia Pike. In her 1983 publication, “Mt. Carmel and Summerside, Ohio,” Alma Aicholtz Smith wrote about Benjamin Morris’s ride from Newtown to Bethel on Christmas Eve, 1805. In his words, “ … From Newtown to Rose’s hill the road was overhung with the largest sort of trees. … From the top of the hill to the big spring, the woodland was more open; droves of wild hogs were running in the woods, and some few scattering turkeys were seen in the trees.” Other important early roads were Mt. Carmel Road, Round Bottom Road, Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Road, and Aicholtz Road. All these roads helped the early farmers complete the cycle of commerce and distribution. As time went on and the area became more settled, the railroad played an important part of life in Union Township. The maiden voyage of the Cincinnati and Portsmouth Railroad, on Sept. 28, 1877, was met with excitement at its final destination of Mt. Carmel. The steam locomotive started on Carrell Street (in Columbia Tusculum) and traveled a total of 11 miles. A year later, tracks had been laid up to the Village of Hamlet, but the towns of Bethel, Hamersville, Georgetown and Russelville were not actual destinations until 1886, after the railroad went through receivership and was reorganized. By then, the name had changed to the Cincinnati, Georgetown and Portsmouth Railroad (CG&P), or, as folks back then called it, the “Come, Gentlemen, and Push” Railroad. The CG&P was eventually sold to A.W. Comstock, who invested heavily in upgrades, including electric cars, and in building a power plant in Olive Branch. He expanded the schedules to include Batavia and Felicity. The CG&P was a passenger and freight line. As the Great Depression spread across America, though, the railroad could no longer sustain itself. The last passenger car passed through Mt. Carmel on Oct. 31, 1935, and the last freight was carried from Bethel to Cincinnati on Dec. 12 of that year. There were other railroads operating in the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, but none survived. The people of Union Township depended on them, though, using them to go downtown as passengers, or to ship their freight. To hear the train whistle and churn of the wheels on the tracks were daily sounds for the people of Union Township for many years.
SO, WHAT WOULD THEY SHIP BACK THEN?
For a wilderness that was first turned into settlements and farms, the early pioneers in Union Township were very industrious and ambitious in their endeavors, determined to make this the land of opportunity for all. Various kinds of farming made up the agricultural offerings of the early settlers. Besides typical farm crops, orchards supplemented the vineyards. Horses were raised and dairy farms dotted the landscape. In the mid-nineteenth century, although still mainly rural, Union Township had its share of business. There were two chairmaking shops, together employing about 30 people. Bill Masters operated a grist mill, and J.F. Perdrizet was a notary public and merchant. There was a hotel in Mt. Carmel, several physicians, contractors and builders, stables, sign painters, undertakers, coffin makers, blacksmiths, milliners —all manner of enterprises. And, as with any growing municipality, Union Township residents knew they would not be successful in the future without a solid educational foundation for their children.
THEN CAME THE SCHOOLS
The early settlers came from some of the best families in the east, so they were not going to neglect the education of their young. There are no records of the first school in Union Township, but it is known that some of the pioneer children attended a school on Mt.Carmel Road. By 1853, all the schools in the township were placed under the Union Township Board of Education, but 13 years later, Mt. Carmel’s District 6 and District 9 left to establish the Mt. Carmel Special School District. As a special district in the State of Ohio, a high school could be established. Again, no records exist, but it is possible that a high school was established in Mt. Carmel as early as 1866. It was an important step for the township, because without it, most students in Union Township would not have had an education beyond the eighth grade unless they paid tuition and transportation costs to a neighboring district. Even back then, in a mostly rural area where children were needed on the farm, education was important to Union Township residents.
The oldest church in the township and one of the oldest in the county was the First Ten-Mile Regular Baptist Church, organized Sept. 2, 1802, in Withamsville. But the Baptist influence was by far not the only one in the area. In the days of circuit riders, preachers of various denominations brought the Word to settlers by horse. From those early days, churches sprang up all over the township. The Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians were all represented in those early days. The Methodist Protestant Church of Tobasco was organized in 1835, but it wasn’t until 1842 that the church was built. Though the congregation later moved across the street into larger quarters, the Mt. Moriah Chapel still stands today, surrounded by the crown jewel of Union Township—Mt. Moriah Cemetery.
MT. MORIAH CEMETERY
Situated on land donated by Reverend Maurice Witham, the founder of Withamsville, the area was once the Witham farm. In the early days, the old Black Line ran in front of the chapel. The earliest settlers of Union Township were hard-working, ambitious, and solute. The homes they built were sturdy and roomy enough to hold the large families needed to make a success out of a family business, especially if that business was farming. You would recognize the names of many of those settlers, even today. Bennett, Este, Teal, ham, Doan, Kearns, Davis, Kendrick and Hunt, among others. Many of these people found their last resting place at Mt. Moriah Cemetery and their legacy lives on as the township they created has grown to the 46,416 residents the 2010 U.S. Census reported.
MOVING FORWARD—THE 20TH CENTURY
By 1850, the population had grown to 1,789, but 50 years later the number had only grown by 13, to 1,802. In 1950, the number was 4,757, and in 2000, it was the rapid growth of industry, coupled with a more sophisticated road system, that swelled Union township’s population to 42,332. The Cincinnati-Batavia Pike opened in 1797, a portion of the first road to go from Cincinnati to Chillicothe, which was then the capital of the Northwest Territory. The road was vital to Union Township. In 1955, Batavia Pike (State Route 74) was widened to four lanes and part of the road later became State Route 32 upon the completion of the Appalachian Highway from Newtown to Athens, Ohio, going through the heart of Union Township. In 1956, funds were approved for the improvement of State Route 125 into a four-lane highway from the east to Amelia. The portion of I-275 between State Route 32 and State Route 125 (Ohio Pike) was opened in 1971. With the completion of I-275 in 1979, Union Township became easily accessible from all areas of Greater Cincinnati. This accessibility became the driving force for the township’s modern-day development. For example, the Jeff Wyler conglomerate of auto dealerships started as one in 1973 and is now among the top 50 in the nation. Eastgate Mall was built on land purchased from the Aicholtz farm and opened in 1980 to much fanfare, drawing 250,000 visitors its opening weekend. Subsequent development made the Eastgate area a retail mecca for the area. In 1984, Bigg’s, a French hypermarket chain, opened its first U.S. store in Eastgate, which led to more retail development in the area. With the anchors of Eastgate Mall and Bigg’s, retail development was at an all time high in the last half of the 20th century. The township was rife with housing developments, both multi-family and single-family. Of the 20,060 total housing units listed by American Fact Finder for the year 2010, 16,577 of those units were built between 1950 and 1999, the biggest boom period in the history of the township. To accommodate the growth, the new Glen Este High School opened in 1963. The high school is part of the West Clermont Local School District, which now includes eight elementary schools, two middle and two high schools, with the responsibility of educating more than 9,000 students annually. In the tradition of the earliest settlers, the spiritual needs of township folk continue to be met by the many churches that dot the landscape, including St. Veronica and St. Thomas More Catholic churches, Mt. Moriah United Methodist Church, Crosspointe Baptist Church, the First Baptist Church of Glen Este, the Mt. Carmel Christian Church, Solid Rock Church, the Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati, and many, many others.
Before the economic development, the schools, and the churches, the cornerstone of any thriving community is the commitment to keep its citizens safe. The Withamsville Fire Department was established in 1942, and the North Union Fire Department in 1956. Both departments were comprised of volunteer firefighters, and both departments’ services were contracted to the township. It was not until 1990 that the two merged into the Union Township Fire Department under the auspices of township trustees and direction of its first chief, Ray Rumpke. Chief Stan Deimling took over the helm shortly thereafter and still commands what is today a staff of 54. In the intervening years, the department grew to a total of five stations, all equipped with the newest equipment to provide firefighting services to the community. However, it is the training in both firefighting and paramedic services that ensures every member of the department is capable of providing the best emergency services 24/7. In 2014, department personnel received more than 9,700 hours of training. In addition to the latest paramedic practices, the department is looked to for prevention and training in a wide range of areas, from Red Cross Babysitting classes to AED and CPR training. The department is also responsible for fire inspections and plan reviews, all with an eye toward keeping every resident and business in Union Township safe and protected. In 1965, the Union Township Police Department was created with two part-time officers. Prior to that time, the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office provide policing services for the township. Today, the department consists of 50 sworn officers, in addition to support staff, and includes its own Communications Center, started in 1984, that provides 9-1-1 services for the township and the Village of Amelia. The first chief was Paul Herrmann, and Chief Scott Gaviglia was appointed in January, 2015, to take the spot vacated by newly retired Chief Terry Zinser. In 2014, total calls for service numbered 54,102. The Police Department required ongoing, state-of-the-art training for its officers, and counts public education as a priority in protecting the citizens of Union Township.
CONTINUITY & CONTINUUM
The earliest settlers knew that the past they brought with them to Union Township would merge with the efforts they made in the present to forge a bright and successful future. In the new millennium, Union Township has not slowed its progress, even in the down economic times of first decade of the 21st century. The new VA Clinic opened in 2009 and remains a busy hub of medical services for veterans. The Ivy Pointe Commercial Park houses a couple of the largest employers in the county, Total Quality Logistics and Tata Consultancy. Avalon at The Pointe is an upscale apartment complex that was opened in 2014. Land has been bought and contracts signed for a Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a Mercy Health Care facility on the boulevard. Superstore Jungle Jim’s International Market opened in 2012 and has revitalized the entire retail area south of State Route 32. Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices will open a skilled nursing and rehab neighborhood in the fall of 2015. And housing development is keeping pace with it all. These are just a few of the developments that make Union Township the right combination of residential, retail, commercial and industrial lifestyle for families of the new millennium. It has been more than 200 years since the stalwart made their way to this land, and their example of integrity and hard work continues to provide the beating heart of this township through progress and pride.