Native American tribes made this area their home until they were outnumbered by soldiers and settlers. Twelve tribes signed the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which gave the northwestern Ohio lands to the United States. In less than a year, the nation allowed those lands to be sold to settlers. An 1817 treaty forced Native Americans onto reservations.
Settlers began moving into the area in early 1817. Fort Amanda, which had been abandoned by the military after the War of 1812, served as an incubator for early settlement. Beginning in 1814, Francis Duchouquet, a French trader who married into the Shawnee and often served as an interpreter, lived at the fort before moving on.
Andrew Russell from Dayton moved his family into the abandoned fort early in 1817, and it was there on July 13, 1817, that his daughter, Susanna, was born. Susanna Russell is generally accepted as being the first white child born in Allen County, although the county did not officially exist when she was born. On Sept. 20, 1817, nine days before the Fort Meigs treaty was signed, a son named Francis was born to Peter Diltz, another squatter at the fort who came north with Russell.
Russell was the first to move out of the fort and begin farming. The exact location of the farm is unknown.
A historical marker just west of Fort Amanda and Sunderland roads in today’s Allen County recognizes the Dye Sunderland homestead as the first permanent farm in the county. Sunderland, who was Andrew Russell’s brother-in-law, had also come from Dayton and settled in Allen County in 1821.
Early settlers sometimes were not even aware of each other.
An early history of the county explains the Wood family had arrived in 1824 and the McCluer family in 1825. Nathaniel McCluer remembers three men coming to his father’s Bath Township cabin in 1826. Morgan Lippincott, Joseph Wood and Benjamin Dolph were hunting when they were spooked by a panther that was stalking them, lost their trail and were astonished to hear someone chopping wood.
“They were most agreeably surprised to find Samuel McCluer and his cabin ready to receive them. Next day, McCluer accompanied his three visitors to their settlement, five miles distant, and then for the first time learned that the Woods, Lippincotts, Purdys and Samuel Jacobs were actually within visiting distance without his knowledge of their existence.”
One Shawnee reservation was near today’s Shawnee and Fort Amanda roads. A much larger reservation was at Wapakoneta.
The last Shawnee chief of Ohio — Pe-aitch-tha or “Fallen Timbers” or Pht — died of illness in 1832, and the Shawnee traveled west that same year. The Hover family moved into the abandoned Shawnee Council House shortly after.
Pht was well regarded. The 1885 county history shares a memory from Matthew Allison about the man. Pht came to Allison’s cabin in Bath Township to complain about neighbor William Lippincott. Lippincott had borrowed a horse collar from the chief and didn’t return it. When Pht asked for it back, Lippincott took him to be threatening and secured a warrant for the chief’s arrest. Pht followed the summons, sending for an interpreter in Wapakoneta. After the details were learned and the case dismissed, Pht turned to Lippincott and said, “Ah, Billy Lippincott, you be all one big lie.”
Draining the swamp
Settlers worked on clearing the dense forests and improving drainage, as the area was at the edge of the Great Black Swamp. Acres were sold in a land rush in the 1820s and ’30s for buyers to clear and farm.
The most active area of settlement in Allen County in the 1820s was along the banks of Sugar Creek, north of the future site of Lima in what would become Bath Township. The first to arrive here was Christopher Wood.
Wood was born in Kentucky and found his way here in 1824 with his sons, Joseph and Albert G., and his son-in-law, Benjamin Dolph. He was a former Indian scout and was entrusted to several important governmental tasks in Allen County. He opened his home for church services and operated a store out of it as well.
A pioneer named William Rumbaugh, who came to Allen County in 1832, remembered early Lima as having only “a few log huts (that) fringed the edges of what is today the Public Square,” according to the 2006 article in The Lima News, which added that “he also remembered snakes crawling everywhere …”
Another family was the McCulloughs. In 1835, James McCullough came via Conestoga wagon from western Pennsylvania to farm near today’s Allen County Fairgrounds. The wagon is on exhibit at the Allen County Museum. The family’s roots are described as Scotch-Irish. He and his wife, Margaret, had six children, one of whom lived as a newlywed in the cabin now on display on the museum grounds.
Simply put, early pioneer life was difficult. They had to build a house, defend their families from wolves and other wild animals, and clear the land before they could plant crops. If the crops didn’t fail, they were faced with the task of getting them to a mill in order to make flour. Baking a loaf of bread with which to feed your family was no easy task.
“When the pioneers of the county took up their residence here, they were compelled to visit Sydney, Piqua, Cherokee, St. Marys, West Liberty, Urbana or the Quakers’ Mill at Wapakoneta, in their search for milling facilities,” an 1885 county history book reported. “This was a most expensive and disagreeable procedure, as in the greater number of instances, men were delayed and by other means disappointed. To remedy this evil, hand mills, hominy blocks and corn-crackers were brought into use, which for a few years enabled the pioneers to overcome the inconveniences of going to mill.”
By the mid-1820s, the Miami-Erie Canal had begun, and immigration centered around that was in full force. Cincinnati was a boat-building hub, and immigrants from the east steamed up the Ohio River to it. Once the canal reached Dayton, that city’s population exploded, too. Then Spencerville and Delphos saw the bump in commerce and people. The first canal boat came through Allen County in 1845. It was first for shipping of goods, but passenger excursions came later.
Immigration records show the majority of incoming people from 1833 to 1861 were German, 60%. The second-largest group were those from the United Kingdom, mainly Ireland and Wales. Switzerland comes in third, and France just behind it. It was common for settlers to establish themselves in a place and then send for other members of their families.
There were several German newspapers. Der Lima Courier was founded in 1877 by George Feltz and combined by Adolph Weixelbaum with The Delphos Kleeblatt. Kleeblatt means clover leaf. The Volksblatt was established by A. Zwanzig in 1879, but there were only three editions. It means people’s journal.
Churches were established by immigrants as quickly as possible, which speaks to their ideals.
“In the matter of Christian progress, to which religious organization and church building must be considered an index, Lima City has marked above all other divisions of the county,” the 1885 history stated.
By the 1830s, a few denominations had become established. Mennonites mainly came from Switzerland, settling in Elida and Bluffton. Lutherans were from out east and Germany, and early resident Abraham Doner organized three congregations — Trinity Lutheran in Elida, Zion Lutheran in Lafayette and St. Matthew in Cridersville.
Methodism was spread into this area by traveling preachers, and Trinity United Methodist Church in Lima dates to 1835. Presbyterians were also among the early arrivals, with Market Street Presbyterian Church first meeting in a log cabin on the square in 1833. In 1834, a Baptist church was established.
Catholicism was not far behind. Priests made a mission out of this area and visited the Catholics in the 1830s. St. John the Evangelist in Delphos is the oldest parish in the county, founded in 1844 by the Rev. John Otto Bredeick. His brother, Frederick, bought 92 acres in the Ten Mile Woods after hearing the canal was coming through, and Father required his parishioners to work to clear the land and build the church as well as donate funds. The 1840s also saw St. Patrick parish in Spencerville grouped with the Delphos and Landeck parishes but then going on its own.
In Lima, St. Rose parish started as a mission congregation with the first church built in 1858. In 1901, St. John’s helped relieve St. Rose from an influx of new immigrants. In 1916, St. Gerard parish began. In 1946, St. Charles parish was organized.
In Bluffton, St. Mary Church was built in 1865. Landeck’s St. John the Baptist parish is from that era as well, but records were lost in a church fire.
Immigration came not just from Europeans. The first Black settlers in the county were James and wife Martha Robinson, who arrived in 1837. Several families joined them. These early settlers were freemen. There were Black settlements in Mercer, Shelby, Van Wert and Paulding counties, with many of the early Allen County settlers tracing back their histories to those places. The post-war era saw another wave of immigration of Blacks coming north to escape the Jim Crow South and find jobs in factories.
St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1858 and met in homes until buying a site in 1880. Second Baptist Church was organized in 1873, buying a site in 1876. Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church was organized in 1917.
A Black newspaper, The Lima Post, was published weekly in the 1950s. It offered everything from the latest on the Jim Crow laws to who was performing at Oliver’s Night Club on Lima’s Central Avenue.
The Jewish community reaches back to the late 1800s, with the Beth Israel congregation taking form in 1903. The group of 12 families practicing Liberal Judaism gathered to worship at various churches in town until a lot was purchased at 828 W. Market St., and a temple built in 1913. The Orthodox group, Shaare Zedek, formed in 1914 and first bought a house to remodel for worship in 1920 and in 1936 dedicated a new synagogue. In 1966, the groups decided to band their smaller numbers together and create a new Reform congregation, Temple Beth Israel-Shaare Zedek.