Monday, July 13, 2009

Platting Xenia

Xenia, the county seat that is also a suburb. Perhaps not as engulfed by sprawl as Chicagoland’s Wheaton (Dupage County) or Atlanta’s Decataur (DeKalb County), Xenia would not be as large as it is today if not for the proximity of Dayton.

Yet the place has it’s own history and industrial traditions. And, along with Troy, one of the more imposing courthouses in Southwest Ohio.

The history of the founding of Xenia is a good case study of land ownership and subdivision in the Virginia Military District. But first the tale of the town’s founding.

The 1881 History of Greene County, by R.S Dills, has an oral account of how Xenia was selected as county seat. The tale starts by introducing a Mr Lewis Davis, who met the early pioneer John Paul, who had settled in 1797 on Beaver Creek near the Little Miami, near the site of the later Trebein community:

Upon one of his previous trips ….(Davis) chanced to meet Paul, who told him that on his tract of land he purposed laying out the county seat, backing up his assertion by illustrating the feasibility, advantages of location, etc. Davis, who was a large land owner and veteran pioneer; and seemingly. possessed of an intuitive knowledge as to the direction of greatest development in a country, disagreed with Paul's opinions, and informed him that there never would be a county seat there.

Taking his map from his pocket, and spreading it upon the ground, he proceeded to demonstrate the grounds of his dissenting. Premising by the remark that county seats naturally located themselves upon thoroughfares between points on the Ohio on the south, and Lake Erie on the north, the southern point manifestly Cincinnati, and Sandusky the northern. Then placing the butt end of his riding-whip on Cincinnati, he dropped the small end on Sandusky, which, upon examination, cut the county at the forks of Shawanoes (Shawnee) Creek.

Placing his finger upon the spot now occupied by Xenia, he said, 'There will be the county seat..' He then pushed on ….

After remaining a week or so, he returned to Cincinnati ; but upon approaching the cabin of his friend Paul, he found it vacant and locked. A few days subsequent he learned that Paul had, immediately after the conversation above mentioned, gone to Cincinnati and entered all the land in the vicinity, and upon which is located now the city of Xenia. Thus it would seem, from the conjunction of facts and prediction, that Xenia was located in the above manner."

In the selection of a county seat, the preference seemed at first in the direction of Caesarsville; but upon due deliberation the present site of Xenia was determined upon, and on the 4th day of August, 1803, Joseph. C. Vance was, by the court., then sitting at the house of Peter Borders, appointed to survey the seat of justice. Giving bond in the sum of fifteen hundred dollars for the the faithful performance of his duties, with Joseph Wilson and David Huston as sureties, he proceeded to lay out and survey, in the autumn of the same year, the present. city of Xenia.

The surrounding country then was a wilderness, in which the native denizens of the forest held high carnival. John Paul had previously bought this tract, and donated for public buildings, it is said, that portion bounded by Main, Market, Detroit, and Greene streets.

The Forks of Shawnee Creek

The following contour map shows the lay of the land at the forks of Shawnee Creek. On can see the land rise to the east, and the creek and it’s forks curve around a bench or flat.

It was this flat that was to be the Xenia townsite, which was platted roughly at right angles to one of the forks of Shawnee. The square donated for public buildings is shown as a dashed line. As with many town plats of this era a set of outlots was appended to the grid of town lots, extending up into the hills to the east. Fractional outlots also extended to the Shawnee fork. This is a good example of early settlers’ sensitivity to topography and site.

From Virginia Land Warrant to Town Plat

The previous post noted that many of the Revolutionary veterans sold their rights to land to speculators. This might be the case with the land around Xenia, as the Warner and Addison Lewis, the warrant holders, did not appear on lists of Virginia veterans, and claimed thousands of acres via the first surveys.

It should be noted that an early road or trail passed through here, the Bullskin Road from the Ohio River to Detroit, passing through the site of “old town”, AKA “Old Chillicothe”, a former Shawnee village.

In 1798 Warner & Addison Lewis conveyed the land patent, or deed, of the future Xenia townsite to one Robert Pollard. This survey was 1,000 acres.

Then, in 1801, Pollard conveyed the property to Thomas Richardson and his wife, of Hanover County, Virginia.

Finally, in 1808 the future Xenia survey and an adjacent tract, 2,000 acres in all, were purchased by John Paul from Richardson (or his agents), presumably after that fortuitous meeting with Lewis Davis.

It appears that the purchase by Paul was the first time the property was owned by someone actually living in the Ohio country. Which does raise the question of communications between Virginia-based speculators, the Virginia Military District land office, and pioneers wanting to purchase land.

After Paul purchased the land he sold a portion of it (apparently not the full 1,000 acre survey) to Joseph Vance and others, who actually platted the town. Paul did donate the public square, however. One notes that the town was oriented around the Bullskin Road, which became Detroit Street, the principle north-south street.

After Paul purchased the land he sold a portion of it (apparently not the full 1,000 acre survey) to Joseph Vance and others, who actually platted the town. Paul did donate the public square, however. One notes that the town was oriented around the Bullskin Road, which became Detroit Street, the principle north-south street.
As one can see by the above map and the earlier contour map the town was laid out based on local topography, the creek and the adjacent flat, not the original survey nor by true north.

By 1855 Xenia had outgrown the original plat, with the eastern outlots being subdivided into town lots and new plats developing on either side of Shawnee Creek. By this time the railroads had arrived, which probably set off a real estate boom.

John Paul Moves West

John Paul's life story is an excellent demonstration of the movement west from the Eastern Seaboard.

Paul was born in 1758 in Germantown, PA, now a part of Philadelphia. His family moved west around 1767, to Redstone, on the Monohgalena River. Redstone was a well-known jumping off point, the source of the flatboats that floated settlers west down the Ohio.

From Redstone the Pauls pushed on to what is now West Virginia, then on to Kentucky, where the family settled in what became Hardin County. This was the Revolutionary War era, and young John Paul joined up with George Rogers Clark's 1778 expedition, participating in the the capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes from the British. In 1790 Paul married Sarah Grover at Danville, Kentucky (at that time still part of Virginia). Paul moved north to Ohio in 1797.

After his involvement with the founding of Xenia Paul moved west. He at first bought the future site of New Albany, Indiana (near Lousville) at a land sale in Vincennes, but thought better of that sale. He found a better site, but had to wait until the land went on sale to buy it. This he did in 1809, purchasing the site of Madison, Indiana, and was a co-founder of that town.

Paul died in 1835, having lived long enough to see Madison become the largest in Indiana.


Anonymous said...

And who was John Paul's partner in laying out Madison, Indiana---Lewis Davis, of course!

The connections among the pioneer families are fascinating, and need more explanation. Davis was one of the most significant purchasers of land at the Cincinnati Land Office, but apparently eventually went bust in the 1820's. His father, Owen, was the first miller in Greene County and first settled (with his son-in-law Benjamin Whiteman) at the aptly named Alpha, but later moved upstream to the falls of the Little Miami (the eventual site of Clifton). Whiteman's stone house still stands. Owen Davis and Benj. Whiteman had served with G.R. Clark-and presumably Paul-during the Revolution. Lewis purportedly built the first cabin (tavern) at the Yellow Springs about 1802--or at least owned the land then.

Dave N.

Jefferey said...

Thanks a bunch for that intel! Yes I agree these connections are fascinating. I guess since the country was so sparsley settled it was a small collection of families and individuals, who would know each other and be active in early purchases and settlements.

Another aspect that has me impressed is the far distances that these people covered: travelling from Ohio to Vincennes and back, as well as the long trips to and from Cincinnati. These journeys took days and weeks.

"TheDonald" said...

I really like the way you did this, Jefferey. By accounting for each transaction in the sales of the original reserve land and by showing how Xenia was planned relative to the bare land, you're showing just how much of a speculation - IE, a complete crap shoot - that the founding of this and many other towns truly was. It was basically a piece of commodity property that someone was trying to make a buck off of.

From the perspective of 1808, who was to say that anyone would even be interested in living in some backwater like "this Xenia" in the middle of the wilderness?

Jefferey said...

It wasn't that much of a gamble since the intention was for this to be the county seat. Xenia was in competetion with two other places for this honor. Winning meant a steady business coming to the town-site.

But you are correct about the commoditity nature of land and land sales and speculative land development (such as "paper towns"). This is a well-recognized feature of the frontier.

The speculators were also not necessarily the first (white) people actually on the land, hence conflicts in land claims. This was a frequent issue with metes & bounds surveys.