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100 Years Ago

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Ideal supply and demand conditions built an extensive saw-mill industry throughout the county during the mid to late 1800’s. A building boom of frame homes, barns, and village businesses spurred demand, fulfilled by an abundant supply of timber from Shelby County’s dense forests. In their rush to build larger, more convenient frame buildings, county residents razed many of the original log cabins and reduced the area’s forests to the scattered swatches of woods characterizing today’s rural landscape.

W. J. Sherman, who was four years old in 1836 when he came to Shelby County from Germany, based his lumber and stave manufacturing business on 1,000 acres that he bought in Darke County and McLean and Cynthian townships in Shelby County (Hitchcock’s History of Shelby County, 1913). "The manufacture of lumber at Russia...has been maintained more actively than at any other village outside of Sidney" (Memoirs of the Miami Valley, 1917).

Several old saw-mills in the county evolved into manufacturers of more finished products. Among them were the Sheets Manufacturing Company in Botkins, lumber milling by Burden, Cook & Co. in Anna, and Lockington’s Summit Paper Milling company in 1873, later sold for lumber milling to the Baileys. Sheets’ company, later the Ohio Spoke and Bending Company, manufactured "wood wheel material for wagons, carriages and automobiles and employment is given eighty men, the plant covering five acres..." (Hitchcock). William Johnston established his spoke and bent wood works in Anna in 1882 (Sidney Journal, May 24, 1882). Sidney’s first telephone connection with Pemberton was through Ed. Ferree’s saw-mill (SCD, Apr. 7, 1882).

The extensive forests of raw material plus the new canal feeder for shipping pumped the Port Jefferson economy with its two asheries for the manufacture of potash. " cents a bushel were paid for ashes, which was no inconsiderable revenue to the farmers as forests were burned in clearing the land" (Hitchcock) Port, home to G.E. Allinger’s grain mill, also had stave shops employing at least 150 men, according to Hitchcock.

Port Jefferson’s future, which seemed secure because of the canal, misled Samuel Rice who walked from Buffalo to Chicago and rode horseback to Shelby County in 1836. "When he struck the line of the canal, which was then just staked off, (he) followed it up to Port Jefferson. He was then of the opinion that the head of the canal would make a greater place than Chicago" (SCD, Sept. 3, 1886). "As soon as the Big Four and C.H. & D. railways intersected at Sidney, a cloud came over the business sky of Port Jefferson which has never lifted..." (Hitchcock). Construction of the D.T. & I. railroad east of Port also hurt its prospects, even as it helped Jackson Center to the north.

Montra, too, suffered a crippling blow to its tile works and saw-milling industry when the railroad was built through nearby Jackson Center in 1892. "Pyle’s old sawmill and the ashery of real lumbering days disappeared long ago," (Memoirs), but the sawmill opened in 1894 by the Korn brothers (William, John, and Charles) survived until 1990, almost 100 years, according to William Korn, Jr., of Montra.

The Korn family’s early experiments in aviation assured Montra’s place in Shelby County history. Wider fame eluded them because "...the Korn boys were out here in the boondocks, but the Wright brothers were in big city Dayton and made a lot more noise," according to the aviation pioneers’ relative Dick Korn of near Montra .  The railroads, bad news for Port Jefferson and Montra, sparked industry, at least temporarily, in other villages. The north-south Dayton & Michigan Railroad encouraged growth in Franklin Township’s Swanders where only a grain elevator and residences remain in 1998. James Swander, an entrepreneur and early township settler, became postmaster, railway station agent, and bestower of his name to the town--Swander’s Crossing--by virtue of cooperating on railroad right-of-way issues in the late 1850’s.

Swander, who owned a grain warehouse business, the first dry-goods and general store in town, and a steam saw-mill, sold the saw-mill in 1880 to Bulle & Minniear who ran the mill "with good machinery and a forty-horse-power engine, and has the capacity for cutting about 7000 feet per day" (Sutton).

Industry segment written in January, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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