ALLEN COUNTY — Hartford was born in 1835, lived on hope for a decade and effectively died in 1845 when that hope missed reality by two miles.
The town’s co-founders, John Harter and Amos Evans, platted Hartford on about 78 acres along the Defiance Road (now Defiance Trail) hard by the Auglaize River in what they hoped would be the path of the Miami & Erie Canal. That hope went a glimmering when the canal was dug two miles to the west, making Spencerville the town they had hoped Hartford would be.
After 1845, “the buildings and streets gradually disappeared,” notes a marker erected in 1976 by the Allen County Bicentennial Commission at the site of Hartford along Defiance Trail near its intersection with state Route 117 in Amanda Township.
Harter died in 1849 and is buried in the Old Hartford Cemetery on the high bank of the Auglaize River overlooking the site of the long-gone town. Evans died eight years later and is buried nearby in West Side Cemetery in Delphos.
The story of Hartford, however, began years earlier with Thomas B. Van Horne. Van Horne was born in New Jersey in 1783 but moved west to a farm near Lebanon, Ohio, in 1807 “where he engaged in the arduous labor of opening a farm in the forests,” according to a history of Warren County.
When the War of 1812 began, the history notes, “he was one of the earliest volunteers … and was placed in command of a battalion in Col. Findley’s regiment, with the rank of Major, and was surrendered with General William Hull’s army at Detroit.”
In August 1812, Van Horne led a force of 200 men sent to escort men, cattle, provisions and mail for Hull’s army at Fort Detroit. On the morning of Aug. 4, 1812, according to Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History, they were ambushed by Indians under Tecumseh who were allied with the British.
“The attack was sudden, sharp and deadly, and the troops were thrown into confusion,” the encyclopedia notes. Van Horne ordered a retreat and “the Indians pursued, and a running fight was kept up for some distance.” The mail, with “most valuable information concerning the army under Hull,” was lost to the British.
Disheartened and facing what he believed to be superior forces, Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to the British on Aug. 16, 1812. Hull was vilified for surrendering Detroit, court-martialed and sentenced to be shot. The sentence was commuted but his reputation was shot.
Van Horne fared much better.
Van Horne, “was soon exchanged, and received a commission as Lieutenant Colonel in the regular army, in which capacity he continued until the close of the war, being for a long time in command of Fort Erie,” according to the Warren County History.
Returning to Ohio, the history notes, “He was elected a Senator in the Legislature of Ohio in 1812, 1816 and 1817, and was afterward appointed by President Monroe a Register of the Land Office in the northwestern part of Ohio, which position he held until 1837.”Van Horne then returned to Warren County and his farm near Lebanon “where he remained until his death (in 1841), a quiet and sober, but industrious and useful citizen,” according to the history.
Van Horne’s years at the land office were anything but quiet.
When Van Horne arrived at the land office about 1820, Ohio was isolated from the settled East by the Appalachians with only one outlet to national and foreign markets, and that was over 1,000 dangerous miles long down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. Inspiration arrived from outside Ohio in 1817 when the first shovelful of dirt was turned for the Erie Canal, which would connect Lake Erie with the Hudson River and New York City. Ohio politicians were soon lobbying for a canal system.
In 1825, the same year the Erie Canal was completed, work began on the Ohio & Erie Canal connecting Cleveland with Portsmouth on the Ohio River and the Miami Canal which would pass through western Ohio and link Toledo with Cincinnati.
During 1831-‘32, three surveys were made for the section of the canal which would pass through Allen County. The first survey was made along the Defiance Road and Auglaize River, the second about three to four miles west of the Auglaize and the third, the one eventually chosen, which placed it about two miles west of the river.
Meanwhile, at the land office in Piqua, Van Horne had been buying up land in western Ohio from the federal government, including 11 parcels in Allen County. These parcels were in Spencer, Marion, Shawnee, Bath, Perry and Amanda townships.
Van Horne, who may have been acting as an agent for John Harter, granted the nearly 78-acre Amanda Township parcel to Harter, probably early in 1835. Harter and Evans laid out their town in September of that year.
The town wasn’t the only thing to grow on Harter family land.
Seven years earlier, in 1828, John Harter’s father, Jacob, leased a half acre of his land, located south of the eventual site of Hartford, to John Chapman. In return, Harter was to receive 40 apple trees from the nursery Chapman planned to plant on the site the following year.
Better known as Johnny Appleseed, Chapman was born in Massachusetts and, according to an Oct. 17, 1953, story in The Lima News, “first appeared in Ohio about 1801 in the Ohio River settlements, bringing with him two canoe-loads of apple seeds he had gotten from the cider presses of western Pennsylvania. For some 50 years he traveled through Ohio, Indiana and southern Michigan, planting his seeds in nurseries marked out by brush fences.”
Samuel C. McCullough, who came to Perry Township in 1835, “tells, in his reminiscences, of going with his father to visit a nursery in Amanda Township soon after they commenced to clear their farm to purchase apple trees for an orchard,” notes a story in the April 1946 issue of The Reporter, a publication of the Allen County Historical Society. “While there they were told that the trees in that nursery had been planted by a strange man by the name of Johnny Appleseed.”
Also in 1835, Jacob Harter filed a receipt with the Allen County Recorder’s office. “Received from John Chapman forty apple trees in full for consideration mentioned in a certain lease for half an acre of ground situated in Allen County …,” the receipt reads.
A historical marker at the intersection of Defiance Trail and the old Erie Railroad marks the site of the orchard.
Next week: Hartford, Gallatin and Austria.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.