Reminisce: Contentious creation of Auglaize County

WAPAKONETA — Auglaize County turned 100 in 1948, and birthday greetings rolled in.

“Auglaize is a youngster compared with Montgomery and Warren, to name only two grown-up counties in this area,” the Dayton Journal-Herald wrote June 26, 1948, “but it’s a pleasure to welcome it into the select group of mature centenarians that have been doing a good job of self-government for 10 decades or more.”

Auglaize, the 84th of Ohio’s 88 counties to be established, has “the happy combination of agriculture and industry that makes for a balanced and prosperous community, where farmers and factory workers spring from the same family and understand the problems of each other,” the newspaper wrote. “There is an easy shifting back and forth between town and country, reminding all concerned that the farmer needs cities and towns to buy his produce and the pantries of urban dwellers would be bare were it not for the sweat and toil in the corn fields and dairy barns.”

The 1948 celebration of the county’s 100th birthday, which was held in conjunction with the July 4 celebration at the county fairgrounds, lasted three days, featured 200 floats and marching units and moved a Journal-Herald reporter to write: “From the attractively staged style show at the beginning of the program, in which great grandma’s wedding gown was recreated with loving care into an ultra-new look, to the final herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, panting in the hot wind which scorched the good Auglaize prairie earth like a hot sirocco (a hot wind arising in North Africa), the show was a standout for rugged individualism at its grass-root Midwest finest.”

More than a century earlier, not everyone was as effusively thrilled when the prospect was raised of a new county in the midst of west central Ohio.

In February 1846, after the first attempt to pass a bill creating Auglaize County died in the Ohio Senate, the Kalida Venture in Putnam County wrote, “We rejoice at this defeat of the efforts of a few heartless, reckless plunderers to effect the ruin of our county and town. (Kalida was then the county seat of Putnam County.) A more desperate effort was never made on behalf of a bad cause than was made by the Wapaukonetta and Lima interest. … These men, with others, have been constantly operating upon members, by falsehood and deceptions.”

Among the “plunderers” mentioned by the Venture was “Dr. Holbrook of Waupaukonneta.” George W. Holbrook is more often known as the “Father of Auglaize County.”

According to the 1905 History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County, Holbrook was born Sept. 12, 1908, in Palmyra, New York. At 18, he left home to study medicine with a Palmyra physician and, after two years with the physician, spent another two years studying at the University of New York, where he received a medical degree. In the autumn of 1832, he moved to Lockbourne near Columbus, where he practiced medicine for two years. He moved to Wapakoneta in the summer of 1834 and would practice medicine in the city for two decades.

“Dr. Holbrook originated and drafted a map of Auglaize County in 1846, which he submitted to Alexander Van Horn, Robert J. Skinner (operator of the U.S. Land Office at Wapakoneta) and others,” according to the history. “Van Horn pronounced the project ‘visionary,’ but added, ‘there is no telling what this Yankee doctor may accomplish.’ The doctor did accomplish much, and the erection of the county may, perhaps, be considered the most important achievement of his life.”

It wasn’t easy.

Auglaize County did not exist in 1846. Most of what is today Auglaize County was part of Allen County, which stretched south to the Shelby County line. By the early 1840s, residents of the area’s new communities, such as Wapakoneta, St. Marys, Minster and New Bremen, faced with daunting trips on primitive roads to the county seats of Lima and Celina, began to talk of the need for a new county to serve their needs.

As conceived by Holbrook, Auglaize County would be formed from parts of Mercer and other neighboring counties, but mostly from Allen County. Allen County, meanwhile, would get a swath of southern Putnam County, including the areas where Bluffton and Cairo are located, as well as a chunk of Van Wert County where portions of Delphos are located today.

Although Holbrook’s proposal received some criticism from residents of areas of Allen County that would become part of northern Auglaize County, the most vociferous opposition came from Putnam County, which received land from Van Wert County many considered little better than a swamp and, by the Venture’s reckoning, the short end of the stick.

And the Venture, in an article from Jan. 15, 1846, put much of the blame on “the evils growing out of the mislocation” of the county seat of Allen County.

“Creating a new county because ten or twelve miles is too far for the people of Wapaukonnetta to go to the seat of justice,” the Venture wrote, “and making those taken from Putnam, who are now within from five to ten miles of the county seat, go from twelve to twenty miles to do their county business!” Kalida, the Venture noted, was located “equi-distant between the north and south lines of Putnam County.”

So, for the next two years, as Holbrook and others lobbied to get the bill creating Auglaize County passed, the Venture railed against it, even claiming in February 1846 that “an effort was made on Saturday evening, January 31st last, to induce” a member from Putnam County “to support a project for the erection of the new county of Auglaize (which has been defeated by this House), by the offer of town property in Wapaukonnetta, and lands in vicinity of said town, at a nominal price.” The Venture thereafter referred to Holbrook as “of bribing notoriety.”

After failing in 1846 and 1847, on Feb. 14, 1848, the bill creating Auglaize County passed both houses of the Ohio Legislature. County officials were elected in April 1848, and, in October 1848, after a contentious battle with St. Marys, Wapakoneta was chosen as the county seat of Auglaize County.

The state legislature appointed Holbrook an associate judge in the court of common pleas of the new county, a post he held briefly. He also was a member of the state legislature from 1881 to 1885 and was instrumental in getting the Dayton & Michigan Railroad, the forerunner of the B&O and Chessie System, to pass through Wapakoneta in the 1850s. He died in Wapakoneta in June 1890.

The Dayton & Michigan Railroad bypassed Kalida for Ottawa, and in 1866 the Putnam County seat, too, went to Ottawa.

“The returns of the election in Putnam County show a majority of 640 for the removal of the county seat from Kalida to Ottawa,” the Daily Ohio Statesman reported in October 1866. “The latter village is a thriving one on the Dayton and Michigan railroad.”

When the county seat was moved to Ottawa, the Venture followed, but it soon folded.


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].