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Monday, November 27, 2017

Brickmaking in Marietta: The Captain, The Doctor, and Miss Lillian

Brick streets and stately brick buildings are one of Marietta's defining characteristics. Brickmaking began in 1788 and continued almost without interruption until the 1930's. Native clay soil made the area a natural for brickmaking. The Ohio Company in 1788 authorized purchase of supplies, including bricks, for the block houses at the Campus Martius fortified stockade in Marietta. Bricks were used to build chimneys and beautiful homes as the new settlement grew. We'll explore the history of brickmaking in Marietta and some of the fascinating personalities involved. Brick streets will be discussed in a later blog post.

The first bricks were "burned" by The Captain, Captain William Dana in 1788. Dana was a Revolutionary War officer who served with the Minutemen at Lexington in 1775 and commanded an artillery company. He suffered a financial loss due to the devaluation of continental currency and eventually relocated to Marietta in May of 1788 with his two sons. He was given permission to build a cabin near what is now Putnam and Front Streets. Captain Dana's son-in-law Joseph Barker paints the picture in his Recollections of the First Settlement of Ohio: "As it was too late to plant, he & the boys cleared a small piece...and made a small Kiln of Bricks which were probably the first Kiln of Bricks burnt in Ohio." Barker used the bricks to build a chimney for Captain Dana in Belpre and later transported some of the same bricks to build his own home up the Muskingum River at Wiseman's Bottom in 1795. Major Ezra Lunt also made bricks in the same location in 1789 and 1790.

The Doctor was Nathan McIntosh was another adventuresome early leader with a connection to brickmaking. He was trained as a doctor in Boston and admitted to practice in 1786. In 1788 he decided to head west and set off for Marietta on horseback, only to fall ill with smallpox in Pennsylvania. He practiced medicine at Waterford, then Clarksburg, VA (now WV). The trip to Clarksburg was a challenge. The doctor travelled there with his wife and infant son, escorted by 15 militiamen. There were no roads or inns along the way, so they had to camp out at night. To keep the baby's crying from attracting Indians, it was dosed with paregoric and muffled with a handkerchief to suppress its cries.

Dr. McIntosh built a large practice there and also embarked on a business venture to build a bridge across the Monongahela River. Soon after completion, the bridge was swept away in a flood, resulting in a large financial loss. He returned to Marietta and continued practicing medicine. He was renowned for his caring manner and surgical skill. He was also held strong religious views which he expressed in lectures and writing. In 1806 he started a brickyard and building brick houses.

Dr. McIntosh's baby son - the one sheltered from the Indians - was named Enoch. He was born in 1793 and began working as a laborer in the brickyard at age nine and at age twelve began laying brick. Williams' History of Washington County, Ohio noted that "He thus early began a life of severe and unremitting toil, which occupied all his time until fortune rewarded his labors." and that "his capacity for work....was phenomenal." He build many beautiful brick homes in the area, including for Benjamin Putnam and Colonel John Mills in Marietta, Benjamin Dana, and Dr. John Baptiste Regnier. Regnier was one of the French immigrants who first settled at Gallipolis and later became a prominent doctor in Marietta.

Image of Enoch S. McIntosh copied from H. Z. Williams' History of Washington County, Ohio

Enoch McIntosh left the brick trade in 1813 and became a successful businessman in the Beverly-Waterford area, operating a store, mill, and founding The First National Bank of Beverly. He lived to age 96 and was characterized in Williams' History as a "man of strong vital and moral force.......strong, robust......(who) in all his years never tasted intoxicating liquor or tobacco in any form." Brickmaking was apparently a good foundation, so to speak, for a long and productive life.

Brickmakers in the mid-1800's are not well documented. But there was one infamous brick-related episode in the mid-1850's involving the Sacra Via Hopewell earthworks. Sacra Via (Latin for Sacred Way) is the graded pathway from Quadranaou platform mound to the Muskingum River. It was to be protected..."never to be disturbed or defaced, as common ground, not to be enclosed." But the dramatic boundary walls were destroyed due to a regrettable lapse in governance. A city council member, who was a brickmaker, talked the city council into selling the earthen walls to him for bricks. The bricks were used in the construction of the Unitarian Church. If those bricks could talk......

Political song writer John Greiner of Zanesville spoke to the Oddfellows Lodge in Marietta on May 12, 1869, and sang a song he composed for the occasion. I was surprised to find a verse which laments the desecration of Sacra Via:

Proudly thought the ancient builders
Of these Mounds and Way and Plain
Monuments of skill and labor
Should forever here remain.
Vain! - for hands so sacrilegious, 
Clay upheaved so long ago,
Make the bricks for Marietta,
On the river Ohio.

Brickmaking became a boom industry in the late 1800's. Brick possessed much more strength and durability than other construction materials available at the time - and was fireproof. Demand surged for brick construction for residential, institutional, public works, and industrial buildings. A single large building could require a "ton of bricks." Construction of the state mental hospital in Athens, Ohio, for example, required 12 million bricks. In 1893, about 44 brick plants in Ohio alone were making 290 Million bricks per year.

By 1900, there were several brick plants in Marietta, making that industry the area's largest employer. The Century Review Board of Trade Edition lists four brick companies:
  • Thomas Cisler and Son located where the Frontier Shopping Center is today, just beyond the intersection of Seventh and Putnam Streets.
  • Sterling Brick spread out along Montgomery Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets.
  • Acme Brick in Norwood, along Acme Street near the rail line
  • City Brick Co., at Montgomery and Sixth Streets 

The City Directories in the 1890's also listed brick makers Simon Zoller at Second and Montgomery Streets, L. W. Phillips at Eighth and Warren Streets, and James Cameron on Lord Street in Harmar. All except Zoller appear on the 1902 Atlas of the City of Marietta, Cram and Roe.

More is written about Cisler than the others. Thomas Cisler was a first generation immigrant from Germany; the family name of Zeissler was later Americanized to Cisler for convenience. He started the brick works in 1856, and it grew into the city's largest by 1900. The expansive yard was spread over 25 acres. 

Cisler Brick complex copied by author from Century Review of Marietta, Ohio, Marietta, Ohio, Marietta Board of Trade, 1900. The Cisler home is in the background.

He built an iconic home in 1886, which remains today, on a knoll overlooking the former site of the brick plant. The home featured terraced grounds, intricate woodworking, and ten rooms. It was the first in the area to have indoor plumbing and gas lighting. Click here to read an early account about the home just after it was built.

Cisler Terrace home as it appears today, viewed at

Thomas Cisler was interviewed by the Marietta Times in 1890, just after he had installed a pressed brick machine. This machine compressed the bricks under 300 tons of pressure before they were placed for firing in the kiln. Clay for the bricks was taken from "College Hill" (site of the current middle school) which he had recently purchased from Marietta College.

The 1902 tornado destroyed most of the Cisler brickworks (and Acme Brick in Norwood), though it apparently rebuilt the operation. The company closed for good the 1930's, after having been re-opened to make bricks for the "new" Marietta High School. It was built on the hill which also supplied the bricks for its construction.

Thomas's son, Thomas Henry, also lived in the family home and had three children, one of whom was Miss Lillian E. Cisler. Miss Lillian was an eccentric spinster who lived in the home after her father's passing in 1950. She wore all-black clothing all the time as a sign of mourning for her late father, lived in spartan conditions (no car, no phone, utilities sometimes shut off) because of poor money management, was obsessive about continuing the traditions of her father - including an annual Bach music festival at the home, and became legendary for brazenly jumping into cars of people she knew while they were stopped in traffic and "asking" them to take her home. But she had a softer side, was intelligent and deeply religious. More about Miss Lillian in a future post.

Sterling Brick was incorporated in 1899, owned by Marietta investors. It claimed a capacity of 30,000 bricks per day. Directors included D. R. Rood, T. H. Sugden. C. W. Sugden, F. P. Morse, C. L. Flanders, and Wm Morse.

Sterling Brick, along with narrative from, copied by author from Century Review of Marietta, Ohio, Marietta, Ohio, Marietta Board of Trade, 1900

Acme Brick was given the longest write-up of the brick plants in the 1900 Century Review Board of Trade Edition. It was not yet in full operation at the time, but claimed capital stock of $50,000 ($1.2 Million in today's dollars), the latest equipment, and "indefinite" supply of shale and clay from soil at the site, a daily capacity of 30,000 brick and 25,000 shale shingles for roof tiles, and "six, tunnel dry houses...which will make.....production a success in rainy weather as well as sunshine." The roof shingles were superlatively described as "the most economical and as well as ornamental roofing that has been bought to us in modern times. The ruins of Pompeii is said to have disclosed it as a revival of a lost art." It's not clear whether the roof tiles and bricks lived up to the hype.

Acme Brick: Symbols on the map show its location along Acme Street, which is not named on the Atlas map. Could it later have been named after Acme Brick or was Acme Brick named after the Street? 1902 Atlas map viewed at: 

L. W. Phillips operated a brick plant at Eighth and Warren Streets. His facility was not listed in the Board of Trade publication - maybe because he was not a member of the Board of Trade (predecessor organization to the Chamber of Commerce). But he did make the April 12, 1894 Marietta Register newspaper under the unflattering headline of "Geo. Phillips Imbibes too Freely and Raises Trouble Around His Father's House." 

George Phillips was the 23 year old son of brick operator Lyman Phillips. George got drunk and set fire to several buildings at the home and brickyard. His rampage continued into the family home where he tried to destroy more property; he was subdued by "a number of men." The Register
reported solemnly that "George Phillips is not known as a vicious or ugly man when sober, and the above occurrence is due solely to an over indulgence in liquor. It is an unfortunate affair." It was an observation as true today as then.

Brickmaking declined from its peak in the early 1900s as better alternative construction materials – such as steel – became available. The brick plants were all closed by 1930. Jobs and businesses supported by brickmaking soon faded away. Few remnants remain, having been removed by successor owners. The last feature at the Cisler plant, a stack for one of the kilns, came down more than 50 years ago when the Frontier Center was built. But thousands of local bricks remain in dozens of area homes and buildings, testimony to the once thriving brick industry. If those bricks could talk, they’d have many more stories to tell about the people who made them and used them.

Sources: (most of these were viewed in websites or digital editions)

Atlas of the City of Marietta, Washington County, Ohio etc., Fred'k B. Roe, C. E., Supervisor, Chicago, IL, Geo. F. Cram & Co., 1902, viewed at

Baker, David B., "Marietta Earthworks," earlymarietta blog, February 18, 2016, viewed at

Barker, Joseph, Recollections of the First Settlement in Ohio, George Jordan Blazier, editor, Marietta, Ohio, Marietta College, 1958, pages 44-45

Century Review of Marietta, Marietta Board of Trade, 1900, page 80-82

"Cisler Terrace a Gem in Downtown Marietta," The Marietta Times, April 10, 2015.

Devol, Jerry Barker, "Lillian E. Cisler, Last of a Long Line," Tallow Light, Volume 23, No. 2, Page 60

Keith930, "What Likes Beneath our Cities' Asphalt Jungles? A Mosaic of Brick," website, January 5, 2012

Marietta College Historical Collections, Volume 1, "The Records of the Original Proceedings of the Ohio Company, 1917, Marietta, Ohio, Marietta Historical Commission, pages ci and 61, viewed at

Marietta Register, "New Residence, Cisler House," April 23, 1886, viewed at

Marietta Register, "Running Cisler's Brick Plant to Its Full Capacity," November 27, 1890, viewed at

Marietta Register, "Too Much Whiskey," April 12, 1894, viewed at

Marietta Times, "John Greiner Song," May 20, 1869, viewed at

Marietta Times, "Cisler Brick Works: Industrial Center of City Now Site of City’s Frontier Shopping Center," April 8, 2013

Pritchard, Joan, "Local Brickmaking - A Business That Hit It Big But No Longer Exists," Tallow Light, Vol 22, No. 2, pages 68-69

Wikitree, Captain William Dana, viewed at

Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County Ohio, H. Z. Williams and Bro., Cleveland OH, 1881, pages 544, 407-408

1788 Thanksgiving in Marietta

I scanned through the entries of James Backus' journal in Marietta during December of 1788. It was mostly routine stuff - Ohio Company agents met, he bought a barrel of pork, warm days were followed by cold as December wore on. Both rivers froze "thick." Sunday, December 21 had an unexpected comment: "A few people assembled at Battle's Proclamation of Thanksgiving." Backus’ terse, perhaps unpunctuated, phrase baffled me.

"Battles" probably referred to Ebenezer Battelle* who arrived in Marietta in the summer of 1788. I discovered that Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving on December 17 for observance on December 25, 1788. This is likely what Backus was referring to.

One of our nobler human traits has been the periodic public expressions of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day is an example of that. In biblical times, God directed Moses to institute the Festival of Harvest in the Bible - Exodus 23:16, "Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field." There have been many other festivals of thanksgiving, most notably in England and Europe dating from the 1500's.

In the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday tradition is said to have originated with the 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. But there was a well documented 1619 Thanksgiving event in Virginia. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a thanksgiving celebration as dictated by the group's charter from the London Company.

That charter specifically required "that the day of our ships arrival at the place the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." There was an annual celebration there until 1622 when an Indian attack resulted in the settlement being abandoned. Scholars have validated the Berkeley Hundred, Virginia version, yet popular belief still clings to the Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving. A Virginia Thanksgiving advocate dismisses the New England thanksgivings as merely "spontaneous and one-time events."

Painting of imagined first Thanksgiving by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts

National Thanksgiving Day proclamations were issued intermittently in those early years; the first being in 1777 after the Continental Army victory at Sarasota. There was no national proclamation in 1788. St. Clair apparently decided that a day of thanksgiving was appropriate for the new territory and settlement at Marietta. Hope for a successful conclusion of ongoing treaty negotiations with Indians at Fort Harmar may have been a secondary reason. 

Here is the wording of the proclamation:

"For as much as it is incumbent on all men to acknowledge with gratitude their infinite obligation to Almighty God for benefits received, and to implore his superintending care and Providence for future blessings, I have thought proper to set apart a day for that purpose, and do hereby ordain that Thursday, the 25th day of December, be observed as a day of solemn thanksgiving and praise that the people may, with one voice and sincere hearts, express their grateful sensations and consecrate themselves to the will and pleasures of their Divine Benefactor, and that together with their acknowledgements, they may unite in humble supplications to Almighty God, that he would be graciously pleased to prosper this infant settlement and the whole Territory in their husbandry, trade, and manufacturers, and by his own nurturing hand mature and bring to perfection all seminaries of learning, and the promotion and enlargement of piety and true religious amongst all the nations of the earth. And I do prohibit all servile labor on that day.
    Given at Marietta this 17th day of December, A.D., 1788, and in the thirteenth year of Independence of the United States.
                                                                Arthur St. Clair,
                                                Governor and Commander in Chief.

By His Excellency's command: Winthrop Sargent, Secretary."

The proclamation incorporates some of the phrases and thoughts as the 1777 national version, which can be viewed here. 

The local festivities on December 25 included a cannon salute, a sermon by General Parsons on Psalm 103:2, "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits," and sumptuous feasts. The day celebrated both Christmas and Thanksgiving. More details about the activities can be viewed here. Participants were genuine in their gratitude for progress and relative good fortune so far in their new settlement. Their grateful sentiments are reminders to us of the true purpose of Thanksgiving Day.

*Thanks to readers Jean Yost and Bill Reynolds for identifying Ebenezer Battelle as the probable reference.

Backus, William W., A Geneological Memoir of the Backus Family, Norwich, Connecticut, Press of the Bulletin Company, 1889, viewed at

Shearer, Edgar Y., "The First Thanksgiving Proclamation of the United States," The Journal of American History, Vol 6, 1912, pages 557-558, viewed at Google Books at
Pilgrim Hall Museum web site - Thanksgiving Proclamations:

The St. Clair Papers Volume II, William Henry Smith editor, Cincinnati, Robert Clarke and Co., 1882, page 107, viewed at

Hinckley, A. Barton, "Who Really Held the First Thanksgiving in the United States?",, November 22, 2017.

Wikipedia,Thanksgiving(United States): States)

Friday, August 11, 2017

John Quincy Adams visits Marietta

Shortly before 2:00 pm on November 15, 1843, the bell tolled at the First Congregational ("Two Horned") Church in Marietta. Crowds rushed towards the church, others to the Ohio River landing. They were eager to see former President John Quincy Adams who would arrive by riverboat and speak at the church.

"JQA" (Adams referred to himself this way) was stopping on his way to Pittsburgh from Cincinnati. He  had spoken at the cornerstone laying of the Cincinnati Observatory on November 10. This was reported as JQA's last public speech, though he spoke in Marietta a few days later.

John Quincy Adams Portrait -copy of 1843 Philip Haas daguerreotype viewed at

Citizens of Marietta had invited JQA to visit after hearing that he would be speaking in Cincinnati. He accepted the invitation, at least in part because he knew of Marietta's history and settlers, many from his native Massachusetts. 

There was no time set for his arrival in Marietta. The tolling of the church bell would be the signal. Observers closely monitored river traffic, looking for the steamboat Ben Franklin. JQA arrived around 2:00 pm. His journal reports that he received "...demonstrations of welcome - a great crowd of people, guns fired, bells rung, and a procession to"

Steamer Ben Franklin docked at Cincinnati
Image from Northern Kentucky Views at

He was escorted to the church by civic leader Nahum Ward. There was heavy rain during his visit, though JQA does not mention that in his journal. It did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm for the former president.

The church was crowded with people eager to see the former president.  Judge William Rufus Putnam, son of Marietta founder Rufus Putnam, gave a welcoming speech and introduced the former President.

First Congregational Church
Church image from website

JQA spoke without notes for about half an hour, praising the founders of Marietta, including Rufus Putnam. Those present were surprised by his detailed knowledge about the original settlers, their families, and their experiences in early Marietta. He praised Commodore Whipple, who "fired the first gun on the sea at the British, in the opening of the Revolutionary War." He mentioned many familiar names of original settlers, such as Tupper, Meigs, Varnum, Parsons, Devol, Green, Fearing, and more.

JQA explained that his interest in Marietta began when he visited Manasseh Cutler at Ipswich MA in 1788, shortly after Cutler had returned from Marietta. He said, "...from the time of that conversation I had taken a deep interest in the whole West, and watched its progress, step by step, to its present great and flourishing condition." 

He may have read about the early Marietta area residents from their letters published in Massachusetts newspapers. Life on the western frontier was a curiosity to easterners.  Whether he actually recalled details from 50 years earlier or refreshed his knowledge before the Marietta visit, he had a firm command of the topic as he spoke. 

After the speech, he greeted citizens at the church. Many ancestors of the original settlers whom JQA had referred to were present. One observer noted: "It was a singularly impressive sight to have the children and grandchildren of the very men Mr. Adams had been speaking of, come up and shake his hand." 

George Dana, a descendant of Captain William Dana, brought his young son, John Quincy Dana, to meet the former president. Dana said, "Here is my youngest son, whom I have named to show my esteem for you." JQA placed his hand on the boy's head and pronounced "God bless you my son."

After leaving the church, he toured the Marietta Earthworks, the extensive system of Hopewell and Adena mounds, embankments, and pathways. Marietta's founders wisely took steps to protect these structures. JQA wrote about these in his journal entry of the Marietta visit, recording detailed measurements of one mound and referring to an article about them by Manasseh Cutler.

He then returned to the boat. Marietta leaders Ephraim Cutler, Caleb Emerson, and Joseph Barker accompanied JQA to Pittsburgh. Cutler observed that JQA "conversed with great ease and freedom on the many topics introduced, 'opening the rich store-house of his mind, and pouring forth its well assorted treasures.' " 

Ephraim Cutler's journal mentions two topics that he discussed with JQA on the trip. He told the former president that the nation was indebted to his father, John Adams, and to John Jay for their efforts in securing all lands west to the Mississippi River for the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Without this land, the Northwest Territory - which included Marietta and later Ohio and five other states - could not have been created. Tears welled up in the the former president's eyes, and his voice hesitated. He expressed gratitude that Cutler had remembered his "beloved father."

Cutler also mentioned the issue of slavery. The former president was a lifelong opponent of slavery, often speaking out on the matter. Just prior to this trip, JQA recorded in his journal: "Before my lamp is burnt out, I am desirous that my opinions concerning the great movement throughout the civilized world for the abolition of slavery should be explicitly avowed and declared."

Ephraim Cutler told him of the state constitutional convention in 1802 which voted to exclude slavery in Ohio. Cutler was a delegate and fought hard at the convention for a total prohibition of slavery. An alternate provision - authored by Thomas Jefferson -  would have allowed a limited form of slavery. JQA emphatically responded, "Slavery must and will soon have an end." He presciently stated that allowing slavery to continue would lead to national conflict. 

Other observations about John Quincy Adams and his visit to Ohio:
  • JQA was an introvert who may have suffered from depression. His public demeanor was austere. However, Marietta treated him like a rock star and "(cheered) him most heartily."
  • His trip to Ohio was a lengthy one, beginning on October 25 and lasting over a month. It was tiring. His journal records meetings, receptions, tours, and visits each day. He was ill with a bronchial infection for several days but did not miss any events. 
  • Travel modes on the trip included rail car, lake steamer, canal boat, coach, and river steamer. 
  • He delivered lengthy speeches, as was the custom at the time. His plan for the Cincinnati Observatory speech was bold: "I want to compress the history of astronomy into a discourse of three hours delivery. My task is turn this transient gust of enthusiasm for the science of astronomy at Cincinnati into a permanent and persevering national pursuit." He fretted about being pressed for time to write this speech. 
  • JQA was a lawyer, statesman, and politician. He served as ambassador to several countries, US Senator, Secretary of State under President Monroe before being elected president in 1825.  
  • After leaving office as president in 1829, he served in the US House of Representatives until his death in 1848. 
  • He married Louisa Catherine Johnson in London, the only president to have a foreign-born First Lady until President Trump. 
  • He liked to skinny-dip in the Potomac River
  • First president to be photographed by Phillip Haas in 1843. The finished image was a daguerreotype; a digitized copy appears above in this blog post.
  • I1779 at age 12, JQA began a diary which he kept until just before he died in 1848. It comprised an unprecedented 14,000 pages in 51 volumes. It is digitized and be viewed in his original handwriting or in transcribed and searchable format. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Woman's Home, a Pioneering Charity

The term "pioneer" is synonymous with Marietta's founding and early years. Mariettans were also responsible for establishing two pioneering charitable organizations. One was the Washington County Children's Home, the first government-funded home in the country. It was founded through the pioneering (there's that word again) efforts of Catherine Fay Ewing. Read more about it here.

The other was The Woman's Home, begun in 1885 for indigent women in Washington County. Women of that period who were widowed, unmarried, or without family often suffered financial hardship. Many were isolated from friends and community. 

The Civil War created large numbers of widows and orphans. Their situations raised the national awareness of the need. Financial resources taken for granted today such as social security, pensions, medicare, and personal savings were lacking in the mid 1800s. 

The wife of William R. Putnam first voiced the need for a community- supported home for indigent women. After her passing, Putnam and other leaders pursued the project. 

The  "Centennial Souvenir", published for Marietta's Centennial in 1888 by Mrs. L. A. Alderman, reported that in 1880 "an incorporate act was provided,.....a board of gentlemen appointed as trustees, and as many ladies as a Board of Managers." Catherine Fay Ewing assumed a fund raising role. Douglas Putnam and M. P. Wells donated two lots on Third Street. Architect Adolph Morris donated his architectural services. The sixteen room home was built at a cost of $2500.

Woman's Home circa 1900, located as it is today at 812 Third Street in Marietta - copied from Century Review of Marietta, Board of Trade Edition.

The Centennial Souvenir described the Home which then had just opened.  Mrs. Alderman promoted the Home as a memorial to the original women pioneer settlers whom she characterized as courageous yet little known. She continued, "How could they be more fittingly memorialized than in having this charity, this gift to the aged and respected women, which is managed entirely by women, dedicated as a testimonial to (the pioneer women's) courage and patriotism...." Mrs. Alderman encouraged the women of Washington County to support the Home.

Furnishings, such as linens, handmade quilts, and dishes were donated by the community. Furniture was donated by the Marietta Chair Company, then a major employer (your author's great grandfather Daniel Baker worked there) with a national reputation. 

The home opened in 1885. The community was actively involved in the Home. Donations funded operations and improvements. Civic groups offered services and regular visitation. This ongoing support continued for decades.

Marietta Times article excerpt March 8, 1973. See above right portion of photo for list of managing board members at the time. Photo shows members of Board of Fiscal Trustees.

The vision for the Home expressed by Mrs. Putnam and her friends was captured in a 1973 Marietta Times article: "They envisioned a gracious home where residents could come and go as they pleased. It was not to be a nursing home but a 'real' home where the women could be surrounded by their own furniture and belongings."

Hundreds of women have lived at the Home over its 132 year history. There were a myriad of backgrounds, talents, and activities. Below are a few profiles taken from Marietta Times articles, the first in 1973, the second two in 2005.

Jennie Woodburn, a long time resident, was a dressmaker and continued to crochet until her passing at age 99 in 1969. 

Ruth Basim moved into the Home in 1978 at age 65 but continued working as a secretary. In 2005, she had only recently retired. 

Margaret Fauss enjoyed her favorite rocking chair. "I like all the people here," she said. "Honestly and truly, I have never had any better treatment than I've had here. I couldn't be in a nicer place with nicer girls."

Many expressed their gratitude over the years. The very first resident reportedly said ..."blessings on those it shelters and those who care for it."

In recent years, The Woman's Home, has operated as an assisted living facility. Its small, personalized operation has worked against it. Costs have outstripped revenues. An endowment which funded losses is nearly exhausted. 

The Home will close in June, 2018. It is a bitter-sweet end for a venerable cause. Fortunately, the support for the elderly that was unavailable a century ago is largely being provided with today's social services. But the homey atmosphere and camaraderie that made The Woman's Home a "real" home can't be replaced. 

Sidebar notes from the research for this article that captured your author's attention: 

  • The establishment of The Woman's Home reflected the societal status of women at the time. Women then did not yet have voting rights, work outside the home, or occupy leadership roles. The Woman's Home met a need for elderly women. It also provided area women a challenge and an opportunity to become involved in a significant project. Mrs. Alderman said such activity would promote public sentiment favoring  "the general advancement of women."
  • Mrs. Alderman also made a very insightful observation about pioneer women in "The Centennial Souvenir." "(They) were known as daughters of their fathers, wives of their husbands, the sisters of their more eminent brothers." Their public identity was indirect only - through their male relatives. 
  • Marietta was not nearly as built up when the Home was constructed in 1885. Early literature refers to nice views from the Home of the fairgrounds and river valley - views which are now obstructed by homes built since then. The Home's location was described as being near the northern city limits - which are currently located at Colegate Drive.
Marietta Times newspaper articles dated 3/8/1973, 11/5/2000, 6/27/2017 Copies of the first two articles were viewed at Washington County Local History and Genealogy Library. 

"Century Review of Marietta", Marietta Board of Trade, 1900, pages 34-35. 

Alderman, Mrs. L.A., "Centennial Souvenir of Marietta Ohio," Library of Congress, 1888, pages 94-97. Viewed digital version on Google Books.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

July 4, 1788..."We were one great family."

July 4, 1788 in Marietta, Ohio, dawned warm, humid, and windy. Rain threatened. Joseph Buell was a soldier in the garrison at Fort Harmar. His journal entry for July 4, 1788 was matter-of-fact: "This day was celebrated with thirteen rounds from the six pounder, and repeated again at four o'clock. The troops received an extra allowance...." The "allowance" was probably extra liquor rations. On a previous July Fourth in 1786 Buell reported that soldiers were granted an extra gill of liquor and "had liberty to drink & get drunk."

Illustration from The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, Benson J. Losing.

Six Pound Cannon

The celebration across the Muskingum River at Marietta featured cannon salutes, a feast, an oration, spirits, toasts, - and rain. There were numerous Revolutionary War veterans in the new community. Only twelve years had elapsed since the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. The noble cause, sacrifice, and victory were undoubtedly fresh in their minds. 

Colonel John May reports in his journal: "...labour ceases today, in memory of the Declaration of one o'clock, General Harmar and Lady, Mr. and Mrs. McCurders, and all the officers not on duty came over (from Fort Harmar) half-past one an excellent oration was deliverd by Judge Varnum and the cannon fired a salute of fourteen guns."

The weather was fickle. Colonel May: "At 3 o'clock just as dinner was on the table, came on a heavy shower...However the chief of our provisions were rescued from the deluge but injured materially. When the rain ceased, the table was laid again; but before we had finished, it came on to rain a second time. But on the whole, though, we had a handsome dinner..."

Henry Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio offers a description of the food served:
A repast, consisting of all the delicacies which The woods and the streams and the gardens and the housewives skill afforded, was served at the bowery (a covered area along the east side of the Muskingum River). There was venison barbecued, buffalo steaks, bear meat, wild fowl, fish and a little pork as the choicest luxury of all. One fish, a great pike weighing one hundred pounds - the largest ever taken by white men, it is said, in the waters of the Muskingum (River) was speared by Judge Gilbert Devoll and his son Gilbert.

Those assembled offered toasts. Major Ebenezer Denny noted in his journal: "When dinner was over thirteen toasts were drunk, each accompanied with a round from the three pounder (cannon), attended in the intervals by two drums, two fifes, and a couple of excellent violins." No one, it seems, was left out of the toasts. They drank to:
  1. United States
  2. Congress
  3. His Most King of Majesty The King of France
  4. The United Netherlands
  5. The Friendly Powers Throughout the World
  6. The New Federal Constitution
  7. George Washington and the Society of Cincinnati
  8. His Excellency Governor St. Clair and the Western Territory
  9. The Memory of Heroes
  10. Patriots
  11. Captain Pipes and a Successful Treaty
  12. Amiable Partners of our Lives
  13. All Mankind
The official activities ended with a "grand illumination" of Fort Harmar - presumably a fireworks display. Fireworks were commonly available in colonial America. The partying lasted past midnight.

Judge James Mitchell Varnum's oration delivered an uplifting message of inspiration, praise, and gratitude at the favorable prospects for the nation, the new territory, and Marietta. The opening two paragraphs set the tone:

This anniversary, my friends, is sacred to the independence of the United States. Every heart must exult, every citizen must feel himself exalted upon the happy occasion.

The memorable Fourth of July will ever be celebrated with gratitude to the Supreme Being, for that revolution which caused tyranny and oppression to feed upon their own disappointment, and which crowned the exertions of patriotism with noblest rewards of virtue. 

James M. Varnum
Image from

Unfortunately, Varnum's health was already in decline; he died six months later.

Varnum's lofty sentiments really did reflect the fellowship present in the community. Words of a participant recalling the experience later in life captured the camaraderie of the event: "Never had such a dinner since. We were one great family, loving God and each other, proud of our new home and resolved on success. And we won it."

(all of these documents, unless otherwise noted, were viewed on-line at various web sites)

Edes, Rev. Richard S., and Darlington, William M., Journal and Letters of Col. John May, of Boston, Relative to Two Journeys to the Ohio Company in 1788 and '89, Cincinnati, Robert Clarke & Co, 1873, pages 78-79

Heintze, James R., "The First Fireworks on the Fourth of July," Fourth of July Celebrations Database, viewed at

Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of Ohio, Volume 12, Cincinnati, State of Ohio, 1907, pages 801-802.

Hildreth, Samuel, Pioneer History: Being an Account of the First Examinations of the Ohio Valley and the Early Settlement of the Northwest Territory, Cincinnati, H. W. Derby & Co., 1848, Pages 162, 214-215, 505

Military Journal of Ebenezer Denny, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, J. J. Lippincott and Company, 1859, pages 88-89

Williams, H. Z. et al, History of Washington County with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, Cleveland, H. Z. Williams and Bro., 1888, Pages 357-358.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Burr Conspiracy and the Battle of the Muskingum

Two shots rang out in the early morning mist above the towering Palisades on the Heights of Weehawken NJ. It was July 11, 1804. Alexander Hamilton lay mortally wounded, shot by Aaron Burr in a duel. Hamilton died the next day. The aftermath of the duel would soon be felt in the Ohio Valley.
Aaron Burr Portrait, from wikipedia

Burr the enigma
Aaron Burr was then the sitting Vice President of the United States. The duel brought his already fading political future to an end. He finished his term as Vice President in early 1805. After leaving Washington, Aaron Burr redirected his energy to seeking fame and fortune in the West (then considered to be any land west of the Appalachian Mountains). His controversial efforts would involve many in the Marietta community and thrust the area into the national spotlight.

Aaron Burr was an enigma -intelligent, accomplished, and well-connected - but with a dark side. He was a successful lawyer, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War, and a prominent politician. In politics, Burr was a chameleon, changing views and making deals according to his own benefit. Most distrusted him. He was called the "modern Machiavelli."

"Glory and Fortune"
The details of Burr's "Conspiracy" were never fully disclosed. But he was thinking big, and seeking "glory and fortune" that he mentions in a letter. The primary goal was the creation of a new republic in the western territories or Mexico, instigated by war with Spain or a paramilitary invasion. His campaign played out over two years, culminating in his arrest and trial for treason in early 1807. 

In early 1804 General James Wilkinson, then head of all U. S. Army forces, met secretly with Burr. What they discussed is not known, though Wilkinson had a long history of interest in military interventions in the Mississippi Valley.

Soon after, Burr contacted England's ambassador Anthony Merry offering to help England "effect a separation of the Western part of the United States" from the eastern states. He was short on details but long on promises of benefits to England. Merry notified the English foreign office via an encrypted message and marked "Most Secret." This was the first documentation of what Burr said he intended to do. 

In the spring of 1805, Burr embarked on a fact-finding tour of western territories. He wanted to learn the attitudes of locals and recruit people to his cause. He would promise prosperity and independence for citizens in the western territories to potential recruits. He made it all sound legitimate and patriotic. 

Starting Westward - Marietta connections
On April 30, 1805, Burr and assistant Gabriel Shaw started down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh in an elaborate 60 foot long houseboat. It was equipped with a dining room, kitchen with fireplace, and two bedrooms. He would visit people at Pittsburgh, Marietta, the Harman Blennerhassett estate, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Louisville before continuing down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

He reached Marietta on May 5, 1805. Aaron Burr records notes from the visit in his journal:
On the morning of the 5th reached Marietta...containing about 80 houses; some that would be called handsome in any village on the continent. After breakfast...came in several gentlemen of the town to offer me civilities and hospitalities. We have been walking several miles to see the mounds, parapets, squares, and other remains of unknown antiquity which are found in this neighborhood. I am astonished and confounded....
He was impressed with the Marietta earthworks, a topic somewhat removed from his intelligence gathering mission. 

Just below Marietta, Burr stopped to see Harman Blennerhassett at his idyllic island estate. He was away at the time. Blennerhassett was a wealthy immigrant from England who settled with his wife Margaret in 1798 on Belpre (later Blennerhassett) Island in the Ohio River. This contact would bring Burr's conspiracy directly to Marietta.

Blennerhassett Mansion circa 1800, from the book Historic Blennerhassett Island Home, by
Alvaro F. Gibbons

Burr continued his trip, meeting with prominent people, listening to local attitudes, and promoting his plans. At Cincinnati he met with Senator John Smith and Jonathan Dayton, former senator and friend. He detoured over land to Nashville to meet future president Andrew Jackson, then a major general of the Tennessee militia.

Burr continued on to New Orleans where he was feted by local dignitaries. He met with the Mexican Association, a group who sought emancipation of Mexico from Spain, and planted seeds that separation from eastern states was part of the Mexican campaign.

Reports about Burr's activity went viral across the region. Daniel Clark, a New Orleans merchant, wrote Wilkinson that "Many absurd and wild reports are circulated here and have reached the ears of the officers of the late Spanish government regarding (Burr)...." The Gazette of the United States featured stories circulating about Burr's plans - expressed as rhetorical questions. Some are listed below. With this kind of publicity, Burr's intentions were no longer secret.
  • How long will it be before we hear of Colonel Burr being at the head of a revolutionary party on the Western waters?
  • How soon will all of the forts and magazines and all the military posts at New Orleans and on the Mississippi be in the hands of Colonel Burr's revolutionary party?
  • How soon will Colonel Burr engage in the reduction of Mexico by granting liberty to its inhabitants, and seizing on its treasures, aided by British ships and forces?
On his return trip from New Orleans, he again stopped in Marietta in late October, 1805. He met with local dignitaries including Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. and Edward Tupper who was clerk of the common pleas court, a boat builder, and mercantile store owner. After Burr left, Tupper wrote him requesting a command in the army if war with Spain occurred. Burr wrote back in January of 1806 assuring Tupper that he would be invited and asked him to recruit others. He also mentioned  that ..."I have lately procured for a few of my friends a few copies of The Duty of A Soldier and Decipline of the Infantry as now practiced by the French Army....and have reserved a sett for you." (spelling as noted in the document quoted). The book was delivered to Marietta by Major Davis Floyd, an ally of Aaron Burr. This was a fascinating example of Burr's attention to detail. 

The Blennerhassett connection
In December of 1805, Burr wrote a letter to Harman Blennerhassett inviting him join in Burr's grandiose plan - with the opportunity for wealth and prominence. Blennerhassett responded on December 21, 1805, effusively offering help in Burr's adventure, "...I should be honored in being associated with you in any contemplated you would permit me to participate in." Blennerhassett was characterized by his friends as a decent person but "having every kind of sense except common sense." He had no business, military, or political experience, yet Burr relied heavily on him for needed logistics (through Marietta connections) and financial support.

Harman Blennerhassett from Ohio History Central viewed at

Seeking money, men, and armor
Burr's planning went forward in late 1805 into 1806. Efforts to obtain help from England then Spain (by trying to play one against the other) were unsuccessful. Burr continued promoting his plan to others, including Wilkinson, Thomas Truxton, and William Eaton. The latter two were disgruntled military officers. He offered them commands in his expeditionary force. Burr boasted to Eaton that he would effectively take over the U. S. government. This prompted Eaton to meet in person with President Jefferson in April of 1806, stating that "Colonel Burr should be removed from the country" because of his treasonous intentions.

The cipher letter: "I have commenced the enterprise"
Burr sent an encrypted message in July 1806 to Wilkinson using a code in which numerals are substituted for letters. His use of code is amusing since most of the country and the President already knew of Burr's intentions. The letter announced that Burr had "commenced the enterprise" and that "detachments from different points and under different pretences will rendezvous on the Ohio (River)" on November 1. He also said that troops would be at Natchez in early December to meet Wilkinson. "The gods invite to glory and fortune," Burr exclaimed. The letter was cited as evidence in Burr's trial. 

Beginning of cipher letter from Burr to Wilkinson dated July 1806, from "Burr's cipher, sir: The 1807 treason case that featured in the Apple/FBI conflict,"

Preparing for the mission
In August 1806 Burr began another trip down the Ohio River to set his plans in motion. His first stop was to see his friend, Colonel George Morgan, in Cannonsburg, PA, believing Morgan to be sympathetic to his views. Colonel Morgan was shocked when Burr suggested that the western states would soon be separated from eastern states. Colonel Morgan and his sons were alarmed at Burr's rebellious talk and wrote a letter of warning to President Thomas Jefferson. 

Burr next stopped at Marietta. Again he met with local dignitaries and even led the militia a few drill exercises. This allowed him show off to locals and attract a few recruits in the process. He also met with Harman Blennerhassett, Dudley Woodbridge, Jr., and others to work out logistics for the expeditionary force.

Image of Aaron Burr exhorting his followers at Blennerhassett Island, 1806, from Granger Collection/NYC, viewed at

Blennerhassett arranged for the construction of 15 boats to transport Burr's expeditionary force downriver to New Orleans. Dudley Woodbridge, Jr. was a businessman and good friend of Blennerhassett. He hired Joseph Barker, a master builder (who built the Blennerhassett mansion), to build the boats near his home about 7 miles up the Muskingum River. Ten of the boats were to be 40 ft long and 10 ft wide; 5 would be 50 ft long. They were to be ready for delivery by December 9th. At least one would have separate rooms for the Blennerhassetts. 

Blennerhassett Island became the mission's operational center. Provisions, including pork, flour, whiskey, bacon and kiln-dried corn meal were ordered for the mission. Corn was dried in a kiln there, bullets molded, weapons gathered. Boats were to assemble and embark from there.

The plan was to set off from Blennerhassett Island in early December, rendezvous with other forces near Louisville, then proceed down the Mississippi River where hoped for troops would assemble. Burr still believed that the mission, though by that time hopelessly unrealistic, was alive and well supported. He counted on military help from General Wilkinson, General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, and General William Henry Harrison (both future presidents) of the Northwest Territory. 

Fault lines develop
However, despite public excitement, circumstances were shifting against Burr. General Wilkinson turned against Burr without telling him. He disclosed Burr's plans and broadcast exaggerated warnings to cover up Wilkinson's own deep involvement in the plan. President Jefferson was well aware of Burr's intentions and monitored the situation carefully. Without help from France or Spain, available resources were not adequate to execute his plan.

On October 6, 1806, citizens of Wood County, Virginia (now West Virginia) which had jurisdiction over Blennerhassett Island, held a mass meeting. They condemned Burr's plan, declared their loyalty to the President of the United States, and ordered that a militia be mustered in case of emergency.

President Jefferson and his cabinet reviewed Burr's actions. Jefferson seemed oddly reluctant to pursue Burr despite numerous warnings. The cabinet approved specific defensive measures on October 22, only to rescind them a few days later. 

On November 4, Joseph Daviess, district attorney for the federal district of Kentucky, cited Aaron Burr into court in Frankfort for crimes against the United States. Daviess had actively worked for months to expose Burr's plan, having written a letter of warning to President Jefferson in January of 1806.

Burr surprised Daviess by voluntarily cooperating. When court convened November 12, Daviess announced that a key witness could not be there and asked for a postponement. The packed courtroom of Burr sympathizers erupted in laughter and catcalls. An embarrassed Daviess was forced to dismiss the grand jury. Burr rose and gave an eloquent speech and left the court in triumph. Another court citation by Daviess in late November had a similar outcome.

The beginning of the end
In early November, President Jefferson sent forth John Graham, Territorial Governor of the Orleans Territory, to spy on Burr with ..."confidential authority to inquire into Burr's movements, put the Governors, etc. on their guard, to provide for his arrest if necessary." 

Graham had to go no further than Marietta to learn the full details of Burr's plan. There he interviewed Harman Blennerhassett who mistakenly believed that Graham was a participant in Burr's mission. He willingly gave Graham full details of the plan. Graham tried to discourage Blennerhassett, whom he believed was sadly deluded as to the prospects for Burr's plan. He then hurried on to Chillicothe, then the state capital of Ohio, to speak urgently with Governor Edward Tiffin. 

President Jefferson was finally goaded to action in late November by further alarming reports of Burr's intended actions. The cabinet convened in haste on November 25. Instructions were issued to authorities from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to thwart the expedition. Included was a directive to seize the boats being built at Marietta. 

Jefferson wrote in his notes from the cabinet meeting: "....Marietta, Mr. Gallatin is to write to the (local officials) to proceed to seize the gunboats building in that neighborhood and suspected to be destined for this enterprise and to call in the aid of the militia." There were further orders the next day for Marietta to station the militia along the river to prevent passage of the "gunboats."

Jefferson issued a public proclamation on November 27 titled "Proclamation on Spanish Dominion Expeditions." The document was a rambling notice about a conspiracy for a ..."military expedition against the dominions of Spain..." It commanded anyone involved to cease and desist and "enjoined and required" authorities everywhere to take any action required to stop the effort.

Graham met with Governor Tiffin on November 28 who in turn submitted a message about Burr's conspiracy to the Ohio legislature which they received on December 2. The legislature passed a law "An Act to Prevent certain Acts hostile to the Peace and Tranquillity of the United States within the Jurisdiction of the State of Ohio."  Tiffin then sent an order to Judge Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr. and Major General Joseph Buell in Marietta to seize the boats and gather evidence.  

At this point, the reality of Burr's situation and public perception diverged wildly. Rumors abounded that Burr might have thousands of armed men poised to strike who knows where. The reality was that Burr's expedition was now a ragtag group of a few dozen men with small arms, a dozen wooden riverboats, limited provisions, no military support, and no element of surprise. This "reality gap" persisted for weeks until Burr's capture. Elements of farce began playing out behind the public facade.

The militia in Ohio seized ten of the boats at Marietta on December 9 and guarded the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. The process was, at best, disorganized. The boats were seized at night and floated down the Muskingum River. Clark Green, blind in one eye, controlled two of the boats. Two of his sons, aged 11 and 12, guided another. The boats when finally secured were tied up near Goose Run along the Muskingum River. There were strict orders to carefully guard the boats from being taken by Burr's men. 

Adventuresome young Burr recruits from Belpre heard that the boats had been seized. They tried to capture the boats themselves and nearly succeeded. They advanced unseen in darkness to the Muskingum River and began untying the boats. The group was detected and a melee' ensued. The Belpreans slipped away with one of the boats and took it to Blennerhassett Island; the other boats were secured.

The militia were not a disciplined military force. Historian James Parton describes them "as rude and undisciplined backwoodsmen..." The militia posted along the Muskingum River had little to do and amused themselves with drinking whiskey and devising clever pranks. One night someone set a barrel on fire and floated it downstream. Sentinels below shouted at and then fired at the phantom "boat." When the boat refused their commands, they plunged into the water to stop it, surprised and enraged to learn that they had been duped.

There was apprehension that Comfort Tyler, one of Burr's agents, would try to recapture the seized boats. A party of sentinels opposite the tied up boats decided to trick the guards near the boats. The instigators buried a sack filled with gun powder connected with a fuse. At midnight, when the guards were "resting" after an attack on "whiskey and brandy," a huge explosion shook the earth. The shaken guards scattered in panic. The farce is captured in Edward Tupper's satirical poem "The Battle of Muskingum or Defeat of the Burrites."

General Joseph Buell, militia commander, declared martial law in the area. Sentinels were posted at a guard house on Ohio Street just above "Boiler Corner" at Front and Greene Streets. All boats passing were stopped for inspection. A cannon was placed on the Ohio River bank.

Colonel Hugh Phelps of Parkersburg called out the militia of Wood County, Virginia. Harman Blennerhassett learned that they intended to visit the Island the following day, on December 11, to capture persons and supplies involved with the mission. 

Blennerhassett thought himself immune from Ohio's authority since his island was in Virginia. He realized that the impending Virginia militia action would force him to leave the island that very night, December 10. There was a flurry of activity. Mrs. Blennerhassett rallied the group, especially her downcast husband, who seemed to realize the futility of the mission. There were four boats and a few dozen men. 

That evening after dark, Edward Tupper, appeared on the island. Versions as to what happened during his visit vary. Historian William Saffer (The Blennerhassett Papers...) and Jacob Allbright who testified the trial reported that Tupper tried to arrest Blennerhassett. They said that Tupper, a general in the Ohio Militia, clapped his hand on Blennerhassett's shoulder and said that he was arresting him by the authority of the state of Ohio. Instantly, several muskets of the expedition's men standing nearby were thrust at Tupper. He protested, "Forbear, men! Forbear! Would you act so rashly?" One man close to Tupper growled "I'd as lieve as not." Tupper backed off and encouraged Blennerhassett to turn himself in to Ohio authorities rather than place himself in great personal danger as a fugitive. Edward Tupper stated in a deposition for the trial that he visited Blennerhassett at the latter's request, went there to collect debts owned him, and encouraged him to surrender. Tupper denied making an arrest attempt or appearing in any official capacity.

The expedition begins and ends
Shortly after midnight, Harman Blennerhassett and his group with four boats and a couple dozen men departed. It was cold, dark, snowy, and the river was swift. He was leaving his family behind for an uncertain future. He faced a dangerous, uncomfortable prospect in setting out on the Ohio River in these circumstances.

Later that day, December 11, the Virginia militia landed on the island and quickly discovered that the Blennerhassett and his men were gone. Phelps left a small group on the island and sent the rest of his force overland to the Great Kanawha River to intercept the Blennerhassett flotilla. Neither group performed well. 

At the Great Kanawha (near present day Point Pleasant WV) sentinels "kept the spirits up by pouring spirits down" and were soon oblivious to their duty. The fugitive's flotilla glided silently past as the militia slept. Back at Blennerhassett Island, the militia with little to do "invaded" the wine cellar and vandalized the mansion and grounds. Colonel Phelps later castigated his men for their rude, incompetent behavior.

Margaret Blennerhassett and her two children departed several days later down river in another boat which had arrived from Pittsburgh. It was a sad end to the Blennerhassett saga at the island "Eden on the River."

The party continued down the Ohio River. Though his contingent was pathetically small, news of his "escape" generated panic along the river valley. At Cincinnati, three anchored boats thought to be Burr's sparked fear that the city would be attacked. A prankster set off a bomb and the assault was thought to have started. Local Militia were called out. The next day the boats were discovered to be merchant vessels. Locals were embarrassed at their overreaction. Another example of hyped up rumors: The Western Spy newspaper reported that Blennerhassett had passed Cincinnati in boats loaded with military stores, many boats were being built, Mexico was to be attacked, and 20,000 men were involved. 

Near the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville KY, the Blennerhassett party met up with another group headed by Davis Floyd with three boats and thirty men. At the Cumberland River, Burr with two boats and a few men and some horses, joined the others. The entire flotilla included about nine boats and sixty men. Burr ordered some additional corn and farming implements. From the latter action, it seems likely that Burr had discarded any plan for military action and was resigned to merely settling on land he owned in Louisiana. This was a far cry from the public perception of a vast military campaign afoot.

In late January, Aaron Burr and Blennerhassett were apprehended by civil authorities after the flotilla landed at Bayou Pierre on the Mississippi River. Burr was eventually tried and acquitted on treason charges in the fall of 1807. Blennerhassett was imprisoned but released when Burr was acquitted. Both tried to reestablish their lives and reputations, mostly without success, after their failed attempt at "glory and fortune."
Scene from Aaron Burr treason trial

Several Mariettans were deposed or appeared as witnesses in Richmond for the Burr trial. Soon after, the Burr episode faded into historical obscurity, perhaps to the benefit of the Marietta area's reputation.

The Blennerhassetts never returned to the island and eventually were forced by financial stress to return to Europe. The mansion burned in 1809.

Note: most of these references were viewed in digital editions on line.

David, Matthew L., Memoirs of Aaron Burr, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1855
Fisher, Louis, "Jefferson and the Burr Conspiracy: Executive Power Against the Law," Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2015, accessed at
Henshaw, Leslie, Editor, "Burr-Blennerhassett Documents," Quarterly Publication of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, Vol IX, Nos. 1 & 2.
Henshaw, Leslie, "The Aaron Burr Conspiracy in the Ohio Valley," Columbus, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, 1915, digital edition viewed at
Map, Alf J., Jr., Thomas Jefferson Passionate Pilgrim, New York, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inv., 1991
McCaleb, Walter Flavius, The Aaron Burr Conspiracy, New York, Dodd Mead and Company, 1903
Melton, Buckner F., Aaron Burr: The Rise and Fall of an American Politician, New York, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2004
Parton, James, Life and Times of Aaron Burr, Volume II, Boston, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1888
Robertson, David, Reports of the Trials of Aaron Burr, etc., Philadelphia, Hopkins and Earle, 1808
Safford, William, The Blennerhassett Papers, Cincinnati, Moore, Wilstach, & Baldwin, 1864
Tabler, Dave, "Blennerhassett Island - staging ground for high treason," viewed at, July 12, 2015.
Wiley, Edwin, Editor, The United States: its beginnings, progress, and modern development, Volume 5,New York, American Educational Alliance, 1912

Williams, H. Z., History of Washington County Ohio, Cleveland, H. Z. Williams and Bro, 1881

Friday, February 17, 2017

Marietta College and the Floating Dormitory

Colleges are struggling to maintain enrollments these days, primarily because of fewer college age students in the population. Marietta College ("MC"), for example, has seen its enrollment decline in recent years. That forces a grim balancing act - cutting back and conserving resources while maintaining a quality experience for students.

Imagine the exact opposite occurring - a quintupling of enrollment and a frantic search for more resources - in just a year's time. It actually happened at Marietta College and colleges across the nation. The year was 1946 when millions of veterans returned from World War II. Many had postponed college and wanted to return. And the GI Bill provided incentives with education and training benefits. 

MC enrollment had dropped to 200 students during the war as most men were on active duty. By late 1946, enrollment surged to 1,000. That was good news....but where would they be housed? Who would teach them - and in what classrooms? Dormitory space at the time housed only 95 students. MC began an aggressive campaign to find housing and administrative space.

Fortunately there were multiple sources of help available: temporary buildings provided by the government, purchase by MC of some nearby homes for housing, and opening of private homes for students. Then there was The Pioneer, a floating dormitory purchased from the Coast Guard. More about that novel set-up later.

The Federal Government made available a variety of temporary buildings at no cost for housing and educating veterans. Marietta College was the first institution in the country to apply for such facilities through the Federal Public Housing Authority (FPHA).

The community also assisted. Area churches, civic groups, and the American Legion worked to locate homes that would take in students. There was also a Citizens Committee headed by Eloise Grafton and Silas M. Thurlow. A Marietta College report stated that a "large number of men were placed in private homes in the city."

As part of the student housing solution, 23 men were able to live it up on a houseboat. Well, it wasn't an actual houseboat. MC purchased a 111 ft. long U. S. Coast Guard barracks boat and converted it to a dormitory. It was christened The Pioneer, in deference to MC's being the first to use this innovative type of housing - and recalling Marietta's pioneering settlers. The Pioneer was moored in the Muskingum River at the base of the "Start Westward" monument. 

Copy of article from Columbus Dispatch Magazine July 14, 1946, courtesy Marietta College Special Collections

The "shipmates" were from 11 different states. 20 of the 23 were veterans. The second deck had been a barracks room which would hold 50 men. MC knew that veterans would prefer to avoid a barracks-style setting, so The Pioneer second deck was remodeled into 14 two-man rooms. Dorms at that time were unisex - men or women only. The Pioneer was a men's dorm, though a photo shows women being invited on board for a dance.

The first deck included a kitchen, dining hall which doubled as a lounge, showers, and quarters for the dorm master, John E. Sandt, who happened to have been in the Army.

Life on The Pioneer was a little different from conventional dorm living. The guys living there at the time said they notice "a bit of rocking" when a boat passed in the river. They could fish if they wanted to, but college life and studies left little time for that. MC policy prohibited swimming. In warmer weather, some lounged in the sun on the roof, studying or just hanging out.

Some of The Pioneer's resident men were interviewed at the time by the Marietta Daily Times. James L. Stolberg of Williamsport, PA was glad to return to MC. He attended earlier as a member of the 25th College Training Detachment, U.S. Air Crew, which was stationed on campus. Ex-Marine James M. Bossert of Oakmont PA had not heard of Marietta College as he hitchhiked through Ohio. A Marietta man gave him a ride. Bossert mentioned how hard it was to get into the larger universities. His "driver" said, "Try Marietta (College)." Bossert diverted from his trip and headed directly to MC.

The Pioneer chapter at Marietta College ended when the vessel was sold after the housing crisis ended. It remains an amusing footnote in Marietta College history. The pioneering spirit of resourcefulness which it evidenced lives on. 

Image of The Pioneer from The Tallow Light publication of the Washington County Historical Society, Vol. 27, No. 1, Summer 1996; original photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections.

There is an interesting sidebar to The Pioneer story: The Pioneer is said to have inspired the concept for a 1960's NBC TV series It's a Man's World. That series portrayed the life of four teenage guys attending a midwest college and living on a houseboat named The Elephant. The setting for the show was a fictional town on the Ohio River, loosely based on Marietta, Ohio. Some background scenes for the series were filmed in Marietta.

The series was itself a pioneer: It introduced more real-life characters and situations involving teenagers coming of age in the emerging unrest of the early 1960's. Other programs of that period featured idealized family shows like "Ozzie and Harriett." Kerry Pechter, wrote about the show in a 2001 New York Times retrospective column about the show. "The show's co-creators Peter Tewksbury and James Leighton, set out to capture the rootlessness, idealism, and iconoclasm....of the early 1960s. And their themes - premarital sex, tragic loss, and the gulf between adults and adolescents - were at times treated in a startlingly candid way."

Critics were excited about the innovative dramatic formula of the new series. With great anticipation It's a Man's World premiered in September, 1962. Unfortunately, the show failed to catch on with viewers. Ratings dropped and reviews were mixed. Sponsors - critical to the financial success or failure of television programs - were restless about the edginess of some episode situations. NBC decided in late November to cancel the show.

Tewksbury, cast members, and fans of It's a Man's World mounted a furious publicity campaign to save the show. The controversy gained national media attention. Cast members Ted Bessell (later starred in sitcom That Girl) and Randy Boone began a cross-country drive in a battered jeep used on the show to generate publicity. They contacted local media outlets along the way and organized protest events. They stopped in Marietta on December 18 and appeared in a demonstration at he Parkersburg WV NBC affiliate WTAP TV with students from Marietta College. A photo of that event included signs saying "Viewers of the World Unite" and "No Cancellation without Representation." The network received thousands of letters protesting the cancellation.

But, all the effort did not change NBC's mind. The show's broadcast on January 28, 1963, was it's last. The pioneering series faded into obscurity, though 50 plus years later, some video clips and details still survive.