After the Native American tribes who lived in this area were forced west, thanks to a series of treaties that reduced their rights and lands measure by measure, the whole of Northwest Ohio was opened for purchase by settlers at the Piqua Land Office in 1834.
It took some work to get to that point.
In 1819, U.S. government surveyor Sylvanus Bourne marked an east-west line along the 41st degree of latitude. Other surveyors took up the job from there, and townships were laid out.
On Feb. 12, 1820, the Organic Act of 1820 created Allen County — and 13 other Northwest Ohio counties. Government business was first handled in Shelby County and, later, Mercer County. Mercer was closer, and it was a little easier for pioneers for traveling for official business.
As early as 1821, surveyors began to plot roads. Fifteen state roads were created in the period of 1821 to 1838, many of which still exist in part.
“In 1834, William Brady and William Scott opened a road from the Auglaize River through the 10 Mile Woods, afterward known as Section Ten, now Delphos, to Van Wert. Not even one cabin was to be seen in all that distance when those pioneers cut the road through,” the 1885 history stated.
Christopher Wood was a former Indian scout who made the Bath Township area his home. He was entrusted to several important tasks in Allen County — justice of the peace in Amanda Township in 1826, first clerk of Bath Township in 1829, foreman of the grand jury in St. Marys (which served Mercer and Allen counties) in 1829, justice of the peace in Bath Township in 1830, Allen County commissioner in 1830, road commission in 1831, associate judge for Allen County Common Pleas Court in 1831 and treasurer of Bath Township in 1832.
In 1830, Allen County authorized funds to extend the Miami-Erie Canal through the county.
During the first meeting of the Allen County Common Pleas Court, held March 29, 1831, several appointments were made, including the first county commissioners, James Daniels, John G. Wood and Samuel Stewart. Judges also appointed Auditor William G. Wood, Treasurer Adam White, Recorder Nathan Daniels, Assessor Samuel McCluer and Clerk pro tem John Ward.
Christopher Wood, the first and only town director, chose Lima’s location and oversaw the survey of plats. Lima became the county seat and was officially organized in June 1831. That same year, Justin Hamilton submitted his original survey of the town to the commissioners.
The new village was just 160 acres.
Gov. Duncan McArthur signed the deed for Allen County’s Seat of Justice in December 1832, but it was written incorrectly, and that was discovered in 1844. The county still owed the state for Lima’s land. The commissioners paid the state $200 with interest to make Lima officially the county seat.
Settlers paid an average of $25 per lot in Lima proper. It was rough country. The whole region was swampy and mosquito-ridden. Pioneers remember snakes infesting the muck and forests.
“It has been stated with some show of authority that Delphos could not have been settled without the aid of quinine,” according to the 1885 county history. “The air was so poisoned with malarial effluvia from swamps and marshes that not only the pioneers but also the very dogs of the settlement suffered intensely from fever. Quinine was the sine qua non of life even up to the period when the location lost its name of Section Ten.”
Early settler Robert Bowers remembered early Lima this way in an 1885 history account:
“My father brought me to Lima in the fall of 1834. I was then a boy of 12 years of age. … Lima was a town of very few souls. I cannot say how many, but I knew every man, woman and child in the settlement and could count them all without much figuring. We had here at that time the land office, two hotels, two shoe shops, two tailors, five stores, where you could buy whisky and such things as a country store usually keeps, two furniture stores, two tanneries, one wheelwright, one reed factory, one millinery store, three doctors, one hat store, one pottery, two smith shops. No newspaper office, no outlet or inlet either by rail or earth. In the spring we traveled below, in summer we traveled on top. Our roads were trails and section lines.”
Lima was incorporated in 1842. Lima, the capital of Peru and the seat’s namesake, manufactured quinine used to treat malaria, common in Allen County at the time. Some accounts credit Patrick G. Goode from Montgomery County with suggesting the name Lima.
Henry DeVilliers Williams assumed the role of Lima’s first mayor. The story goes that Williams was a character by anyone’s standards. History claims he wore buckskin breeches, a loose shirt and fur cap wherever he went. A pack of dogs was his constant companion as he tramped through the countryside. Unfortunately for Williams, his life was cut short after he was bitten by a dog and died of rabies in 1844.
By that time, signs had begun to materialize that Lima would prosper and grow. Some of the first Limaites were Absalom Brown, John Marks, Henry Napier and J.P. Mitchell.
The first log cabin in the new village was built by John Marks, a shoemaker who erected the structure on the south side of West Market Street. With only the framework of the home in place, Mark left Lima to get his family from Champaign County. While he was gone, the Mitchell family came to the area, and in true pioneer fashion, moved into the vacated house for the winter.
Upon the return of the Marks family, the Mitchells along with their friends, the Joseph Edwards family, built a double cabin on the north side of Elm Street, between Main and Union streets. Always the businessman, Mitchell eventually built and operated Lima’s first hotel, located on the southeast corner of Main and Market streets. There, many new residents to the area spent their first few days in the village.
In 1848, Auglaize County was created from territory taken out of Allen County. Allen County’s shape became what we are familiar with today, although there was much reorganizing of townships over the years.
So much growth brought so much to keep the peace over. The Lima Police Department was officially organized in May 1887. There were seven people on the force. It grew to 18 by 1909. Officers were issued a gun, badge, flashlight, whistle and set of keys and often rode the street car to calls, a 1976 history states. The detective bureau began in the 1930s.
The fire department began with an amalgamation of citizens responding with buckets, and a volunteer force formed in 1865. Horses were used to pull the pumpers. History says Lima’s department often competed with Spencerville’s to see who could respond faster. A formal department was organized in 1893.
By 1900, Lima began to consider itself a city. And that year, Dr. Sam Baxter, writing for The Times-Democrat, presented a glimpse of that which made the city of Lima special. He noted a healthy public school system and a large variety of manufacturers that brought prosperity as well as healthy “fraternal, religious and social organizations.”
Of the people here, Baxter described them as “an orderly, house-owning, hospitable people, inspired with an incomparable public spirit, which balks at no enterprise and welcomes every honest man, rich or poor, who comes to add his efforts to the energetic life of our thriving city.”
During the late 1870s until about the 1920s — which encompasses great surges in growth via the canal and railroads and their related industries — the governing of the county and Lima itself was done by well intentioned but untrained men, according to the 1976 county history. Growth to the city itself was done somewhat haphazardly, and the city was in dire need of organization. The Ottawa River was filthy, and drainage was poor because of it, which worsened the 1913 and 1915 floods. Public infrastructure — roads, water systems, most everything — was deteriorated or nonexistent.
“What has been said of the physical condition of Lima could well be matched by the mental attitude of the citizens. Attitudes of indifference or criticism seemed to be the order of the times. In the meantime, Lima slipped a little farther backward each year,” the 1976 history states.
Mayor Frank Burkhart formed a committee to study the problems, and out of this came the city manager era. The city commission — five elected men which replaced city council — would nominate one of their own as mayor. The commission also hired a city manager. The manager, who reported to the mayor, appointed the city clerk, purchasing agent, auditor, law director and all department heads.
Clarence Bingham of Binghampton, New York, was the first city manager. He started a program of public expenditures that was followed by the next manager, Irving C. Brower, of paving roads, straightening and cleaning the Ottawa River and improving the city’s water supply with reservoirs.
This was all terribly expensive. There was no federal or state help to speak of. The grumbling had begun and intensified greatly when the stock market crashed in 1929. People liked the idea of plentiful running water, but the bill for it was steep when times were tough.
Brower resigned in 1930. Judge Fred C. Becker, a former mayor, had just retired from Allen County Common Pleas Court. He maintained city manager duties while steadying the course back into a mayor-led era. A new mayor, Allen T. Metheany, was elected in 1933.
Becker’s farewell address included these thoughts:
“If we are to have a better, happier, more peaceful city, we will have to build it. God’s greatest gifts are not material things but everyday opportunities for service. We have a date with destiny. As community-minded men and women, we shall continue to serve mankind by lending the influence of our efforts to the building of a better city and a stronger brotherhood of people among people.”