In the summer of 1845, the Miami Extension Canal, the middle and last section of what would become the Miami and Erie Canal, was filled with water, and Toledo on Lake Erie was connected to Cincinnati on the Ohio River. More importantly, the ports of the East now had a better connection to the country’s inland river system.
“A greater temporal blessing could not well have been conferred on the people of North-Western Ohio than has been bestowed upon them by the state, in the construction of the Miami Extension Canal,” the Kalida Venture wrote April 23, 1846. “It is almost as indispensable to the prosperity of this county, as old Nile is to Egypt.”
The canal would bestow its commercial blessings on towns such as Delphos and Spencerville that grew and flourished on its banks. Still other would-be towns, whose backers guessed wrong when attempting to anticipate the canal’s path across Ohio, failed to materialize or simply withered and died.
Auglaize City (also known simply as Auglaize) was platted in October 1835 in the “wilderness of Allen County” by “some Dayton capitalists,” former Lima mayor and historian Frank Burkhardt wrote in 1943. The site, in Marion Township east of state Route 66 near Bloomlock Road, was “doubtless” laid out to “connect the proposed Miami and Erie canal and Auglaize River by means of the streets of the city,” Burkhardt noted.
“There was a Canal street 150 feet in width,” he wrote. “Main Street was 100 feet wide. There was laid out a score of streets named Franklin, Jefferson and for other celebrities. Stately avenues, public squares and park locations indicated the plan for a Queen city that was to grace an avenue of trade for both the canal and the river.”
The canal eventually went through a mile to the west, by which time plans for Auglaize city had been abandoned anyway.
“The great trees stood unmolested in the streets and avenues,” Burkhardt concluded. “Of all of the ghost towns or cities that vanished, the Auglaize City venture tops them all as the project was swept into oblivion before it began.”
Nearby and platted a month earlier than Auglaize City was the town of Hartford in Amanda Township. Like the founders of Auglaize City, the founders of Hartford also guessed wrong on the path of the canal. Unlike Auglaize City, Hartford, located between Defiance Trail and the Auglaize River, did exist, though briefly, before being swept into oblivion.
“There was a spacious public square provide for,” Burkhardt wrote in 1943 of the town plans, “and a site for a seminary, the first movement toward providing a higher educational institution in Allen County.”
Adjoining Hartford to the north, a town called Austria was laid in 1838, which included a “factory commons” along the Auglaize River. At Hartford, Burkhardt noted, “there were trading posts and stores. Schools were opened and the mission churches called the settlers to worship as sweet-toned bells chimed forth in the midst of a wilderness setting.”
Royal Wells Smith, a clergyman from Massachusetts who was in Hartford in 1843, had a less romantic view of the new town, writing in an August 1843 letter to his family that he was stationed in a “back woods” place where “I am literally buried alive.”
When the canal passed by two miles to the west, Hartford, by then known as Gallatin to avoid confusion with another Ohio town, disappeared.
“By 1856, every lot of the town was in the name of William Moorman, and the promises once foreseen for Hartford were now being enjoyed in the canal town of Spencerville, which was platted in 1844,” surveyor and historian Michael G. Buettner wrote in the September 2014 issue of the Allen County Reporter.
Today, an Ohio historical marker and a small cemetery on the high west bank of the river are the only reminders that Hartford ever existed.
Amanda, another town which failed to find success, was platted around 1832 on the east side of the Auglaize River, just below Fort Amanda near Tawa Town, a village of the fierce Ottawa tribe, which was abandoned about 1817.
“The town of Amanda was promoted as a likely county seat,” Burkhardt noted.
However, when Allen County lost “four townships on the south border in the formation of Auglaize County in 1848, the visions of the promoters of Amanda abated” because Allen County’s county seat hopeful was now in Auglaize County.
“Lima’s rival (for county seat), laid out just one year later, passed into oblivion so that today one can traverse the location of Amanda and find (no) clue of just how the second town site in Allen County was planned and promoted. Truly a vanished ghost town,” Burkhardt wrote in 1943.
Amanda was but the first of many planned Allen County towns that fizzled, towns like Petersburg and Constantine. Petersburg, three miles southeast of Westminster, was laid out in 1834 with 57 lots.
“Although there is no evidence that any of these lots were ever sold, the town did survive long enough to appear on an important 1838 map of Ohio,” Buettner wrote in 2014.
Two years later, Constantine was platted near the intersection of today’s Harding Highway and Cool Road.
“Once again, there is no evidence that any of the lots – including one set aside for a school – were ever developed,” according to Buettner.
Other towns grew naturally around churches, schools, interurban stops, and intersections. Townsend, which was located near where the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad crossed state Route 117, appears on maps in the late 19th century but disappeared by the turn of the century. The town was a railroad stop likely because, in the late 19th century, oil wells sprouted like dandelions in that area of Perry Township. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Black Legion, a violent offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan, held rallies in the area.
Leatherwood was located on the Lincoln Highway east of what is now its intersection with Robinson Road. The community bordered on the Leatherwood Ditch, so called, according to 1994 research by Anna Selfridge, a curator at the Allen County Museum, “because the bark of the native trees and bushes growing along the ditch was so tough that the early settlers sometimes used it as a substitute for leather.”
Many of those early settlers were Welsh. They eventually built a school, a church, and, according to some reports, a grange hall in the community.
“By 1994, all that remains of Leatherwood is a now deserted Leatherwood Community Park,” Selfridge wrote.
John East, of Pickaway County, came to Allen County in 1832, bought land and opened an ox-powered mill where flour was milled and lumber sawed.
“The drive wheel of the mill was 50 feet in diameter and set at an angle of 15 degrees,” Selfridge wrote. “The oxen were placed on the inclined surface of the mill which they caused to operate by their incessant treading and thus operated the machinery.”
The tread mill was eventually replaced by a steam grist mill.
“The hamlet containing the mill became known as East Town,” Selfridge wrote. Part of the old East property today lies beneath Lowe’s on the northwest corner of Eastown Road and state Route 309.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.