By Joan Baxter
When Greene County was established, there were four townships: Mad River, Silvercreek, Beavercreek and Sugarcreek. Last week I shared the stories of Mad River and Silvercreek Townships.
Sugarcreek Township was established May 10, 1803. Initially, the northwest corner was about two miles south and a little west from the present city of Xenia. Included was all of present Sugarcreek Township, nearly all of Spring Valley Township and the southwest portion of what is now Xenia Township.
Little Sugar Creek comes from the northwest toward the center of the township where, just south of Bellbrook; it joins Big Sugar Creek, becomes Sugar Creek then flows into the Little Miami River.
It is said that the abundance of sugar maple trees and the Sugar Creek provided the Township name.
One of the earlier roads, the Pinkney Road led from Cincinnati through Lebanon, Bellbrook and north to Alpha. The early settlers used this road to transport corn in exchange for salt and other commodities in Cincinnati. The trip was arduous, but as more and more folks traveled the distance, the road was greatly improved.
In the spring of 1796, brothers George and Amos Wilson along with Jacob Mills came from Cincinnati to a site about three-fourth of a mile east of Clio, also known as Ferry in the extreme southwestern corner of Greene County. The built a small hut with neither chimney nor floor as a temporary shelter while they cleared about three acres on which they planted corn.
Then they returned to Cincinnati to harvest the crop previously planted there. Another brother, Daniel came to the area where he felled about two acres in preparation for building a home. Later another brother, John also came. The built their homes, then brought their families here to live. Their father John Wilson came to visit in 1800. He liked the area so much he asked his sons to build a house for him as well. In 1802, he was selected to be a delegate to the convention which framed the first constitution of the State of Ohio. Since Greene County was not yet established, he served as a delegate from Hamilton County.
Alexander Berryhill bought 640 of land south of Bellbrook in 1813. The deed to the land was signed by President James Madison. Members of the Berryhill family still reside in the area.
Joseph Vance built the first house in what is now the city of Bellbrook about 1797. His log house was located at what became the southeast corner of Main and Walnut Streets. After he moved back to Cincinnati, the structure was used as a store then later a hotel and tavern.
Bellbrook was not laid out until 1816, when Stephen Bell, Henry Opdyke and James Clancy, owners of the land platted the village. The new town was given the name Bellbrook in honor of Stephen Bell. The village was laid out on both sides of the Pinkney Road. The lots which ran north were laid out two deep, four rods wide and ten rods long. After the first forty lots were laid out, a 66 foot wide cross street was made. Later the Pinkney Road was renamed Main Street and that first cross road was Franklin Street.
A trip to Bellbrook was not complete until you visited Pennewitt Hardware, where you could purchase just about anything you needed, including an auto license plate.
Bellbrock Park is located downtown in Bellbrook and was the site of the Magnetic Spring. An old church building was being converted into an apartment house and a new well was dug. One day, the plasterer used the water to mix his mortar and discovered that the trowel had become magnetized.
In 1883, the village had “struck it rich.” People came from great distances to gather jugs of the mineral water. As many as 800 jugs were filled each day. The first two gallons were free then a charge of five cents per gallon was required.
In time, the hotel opened with 75 rooms. Hotel guests were welcome to drink as much of the water as desired, and were able to bathe in the medicinal water for a fee of $5 per week. The hotel prospered until 1893 when a fire destroyed the building at an estimated loss of $20,000. The proprietor planned to construct another building, but this was never done. Perhaps the magnetic properties of the water had disappeared, or there was less demand for such a place.
By 1832, Bellbrook residents desired to have the village incorporated. A petition was presented to the state legislature and approved. For more than 140 years, Bellbrook remained an incorporated village then in January 1974, the village became a city. The pioneer cemetery on Upper Bellbrook is the final resting place for many of the early Sugarcreek Township settlers.
No history of Sugarcreek Township would be complete without telling the story of “Sleepy Tom.” The horse, trained to be a race horse, was foaled in Bellbrook. His career was cut short when he lost his eyesight. The horse was declared useless and was sold again and again, once for $30 and a bottle of whiskey. When Steve Phillips acquired the blind horse, he began to train him to race and in time his prowess was legendary. In 1879, Tom recorded the best time known in the world to any gait and his name rapidly became a household word among racing fans.
This year the City of Bellbrook is celebrating its bicentennial year 1816-2016. Happy Anniversary!
Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and long-time historical columnist.