History of North Baltimore and Henry Township.

North Baltimore Wikipedia History Article

 

Location

Henry and Bloom Townships

This 1858 map illustrates Henry Townships’ major terrain features and early settler’s homesteads before the founding of North Baltimore. 

 Located on in Northwest Ohio on the southern edge of Ohio’s Great Black Swamp, the village of North Baltimore and Henry Township which surrounds it in southern Wood County, Ohio were among the last areas of Ohio to be settled.  The area was heavily forested and frequently waterlogged due to poor natural drainage. The only high ground is an approximately one-mile long north to south limestone ridge which rises ten to twenty feet above the surrounding swamp land. North Baltimore startles this ridge.  Prior to 1830, the area’s only inhabitants were roving bands of Wyandot, Ottawa, and other Native Americans tribes. (1)

The North Baltimore Area in the War of 1812

During the early months of the War of 1812 American General William Hull’s 2,600-man army blazed a path through the Black Swamp on its way to Detroit.  Hull camped for at least one night on what is now the site of North Baltimore.  By June 26, Hull’s army had reached the south side of the Blanchard River and erected a blockhouse named Fort Findlay.  On June 27th, Hull resumed his march north to the Rocky Ford Creek near what is now the town of Van Buren and from there along the west bank of Rocky Ford Creek. Moving at the rate of 10-15 miles a day—a reasonable rate for difficult terrain—most of his army arrived at the present site of North Baltimore on June 28, 1812, a day after departing Fort Findlay.  (2)

Because of the swampy conditions, the army moved and camped along the few ridges and other high ground available.   When General Hull reached the present day site of North Baltimore he camped on the high ground which is the present site of Maplewood Cemetery and Memorial Field Stadium.  On June 29th, Hull’s force proceeded north to present day Portage where he camped.  Hull finally reached the Maumee River on June 30 having taken four days to traverse the Black Swamp.  From there his forces crossed the river and continued north, reaching the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan by July 5th.  (3)

Early Settlement History

Swampy southern Wood County was not extensively drained and settled until the 1830s.  Henry Township’s first settler, Henry Shaw, purchased his land in 1829.  Other families soon moved into the area, although remained sparsely settled for the next forty years.   Once there was a sufficient population, these early settlers organized and elected the first township officials on December 3, 1836.  Henry Shaw was given the right to name the township so he named it “Henry” after his first name. (4)

While the first settlers cleared some of the forest for farmland, much of the township remained tree covered.  This extensive local hardwood forest supported a logging industry and several stave mills until the late 1870s.  It was only after the eradication of wolves and other carnivorous wild animals by the 1840s that raising livestock become feasible for the farmers.   Transportation was difficult because the few roads were often impassible during wet weather. These pioneer farmers’ lives were greatly improved in 1834 when John Beeson established the first gristmill on the banks of Rocky Ford Creek which ran through the township. (5)

Henry Township’s Civil War Soldiers

During the Civil War, Henry Township had sufficient population to send twenty-six men to the Union Army soldiers.  These men participated in the major engagements of the Civil War including, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. Nine of them were killed in action, died of wounds or disease, or perished as prisoners in various notoriously unhealthy Confederate prisons for a casualty rate of 34%. (6)

Founding of North Baltimore

BL Peters Cropped

B. L. Peters, the founder of North Baltimore, Ohio

Basset L. Peters is considered the founder of North Baltimore where, beginning in the early 1850s, he ran a general store at what eventually became known as Peters Crossroads.  Peters later served as the local justice of the peace, sold real estate, established the first church and newspaper, and eventually became the town’s first mayor.  For most of the period from its first settlement until the early 1870s, Peters Crossroads consisted of only a dozen or so houses, several stores, a grist mill, and stave factory.  (7)

NB 1884 first photo cropped

 This is a 1883 photograph of North Baltimore’s North Main Street as it looked prior to the Oil Boom.

  When the B&O railroad built its main line through the area in 1873, Peters’ settlement was selected for the local depot. The railroad allowed rapid access to outside markets and easy import of goods.  New merchants were attracted to the community which resulted in the slow but steady growth of the settlement in the 1870s and early 1880s.  In 1875, the area’s residents voted to incorporate their village and on February 7, 1876, Peters Crossroads officially became the village of New Baltimore. However, since there were several other Ohio villages with the name Baltimore in the town’s name, there was confusion in delivering the US Mail. Therefore, the town’s name was changed to North Baltimore to simplify mail delivery.  (8)

 The Oil Boom

 Gusher near NB Cropped

An oil well gusher located just outside North Baltimore, circa 1890.

 The discovery of oil in Northwest Ohio in the mid-1880s led to both a population boom and greater prosperity for North Baltimore.   The town’s first oil well was drilled in June 1886, but the drilling of many other high producing oil and natural gas wells the following year set off a real “Oil Boom” in the region.   The natural gas wells attracted three glass factories to North Baltimore since their owners were provided free gas to fire their glass furnaces.   (9)

The Oil Boom brought dramatic changes to the social and economic life of the local citizens.  Many residents made money leasing their farmland for oil wells. Local merchants experienced a dramatic rise in their sales due to the increasing number of oil field workers and their families. Many business and factories were also established in the town attracted by low fuel costs and the general economic boom.  The three glass factories, several boiler construction and repair works, machine shops, the Manhattan Oil Refinery, and other industries provided additional jobs for workers. (10)

N. Main St 1891 B & W

North Baltimore’s North Main Street in August 1891 as it looked prior to the Great Fire.

 North Baltimore’s commercial area grew rapidly as new businesses were established along Main Street.    Newly constructed brick and wooden false-front buildings housed banks, dry goods, grocery, clothing, oil well supply, and the myriad of other stores found in a prosperous 19th Century boom town.  During this period the town hall and the Henry Opera house were constructed, the village’s two most architecturally significant 19th Century buildings.  Overall, the 1880s and 1890s were very prosperous times for the community. (11)

The Oil Boom also brought an unsavory element to the community.  A majority of the workers were young, single men who looked for entertainment, especially on Saturday afternoon paydays.  At one point, North Baltimore had 23 saloons, a large number of professional card sharps, and several brothels all competing for the oil worker’s money. The town marshal and his deputies were constantly struggling to maintain law and order in the community as drunken, rowdy men were often a problem as well as more serious murders and muggings of inebriated saloon patrons.    The editor of the North Baltimore Beacon, a local newspaper, complained that no decent woman was able to walk down Main Street on a Saturday afternoon without being harassed.  Only with the end of the Oil Boom did the town return to a more peaceful atmosphere. (12)

 

The Great Fire of October 31, 1891

Bystanders 1891 Fire 

North Baltimore’s North Main Street as it looked after the Great Fire of 1891.

 North Baltimore suffered a major catastrophe on October 30, 1891 when the Great Fire of 1891 destroyed much of the business district on North Main Street.  The fire began about 10:00 pm in a saloon when two gamblers got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene lantern.    A strong southwesterly wind helped to rapidly spread the flames down both sides of the street.  Before the fire ran its course, over 49 structures were destroyed.   Only the high brick walls of the Opera House and the First National Bank building prevented the fire from spreading even further.   However, within one year the town was rebuilt with new, more fire resistant brick buildings. (13)

The 1890s

 The fire was only a temporary setback and the town’s merchants continued to enjoy making money off the Oil Boom.  For most of the 1890s, North Baltimore remained a prosperous town with its own electric power plant, telephone Company, and municipal water plant.  Main Street businesses included millinery, jewelry stores, music and other kinds of stores selling a variety of luxury goods and common household items. With money to spare, many of the local citizens joined a variety of fraternal organizations and social clubs.  (14)

 In 1895, the Ohio National Guard established a unit in North Baltimore designated as Company K, 2nd Infantry Regiment. The unit was mobilized in April 1898 for duty with the US. Army in the Spanish-American War. However, the war ended before the unit had completed training. (15)

North Baltimore’s all volunteer fire department was first organized in 1877. By the 1890s, there were two fire companies operating under one fire chief, the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company and the Buckeye Hose Company. The two were combined by 1910.  In this circa 1905 photo, the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company members are posing before the town hall.  The ladder wagon was pulled by hand. (16)

However, in the early 1900s, the Northwest Ohio Oil Field declined as many oil and natural gas wells ran dry or experienced sharp drops in oil flow.  Oil well operators did not practice good conservation methods and burned off much of the natural gas pressure.  This in turn caused the production of the oil wells to drastically drop.  Increasing numbers of oil field workers left town for the new oil fields in the Western United States.  With fewer customers, some merchants closed up shop and also moved away.  By 1915, the Northwest Ohio oil fields were considered exhausted and the boom times were also over for the village. (17)

A Quiet Village 1900-1950

N. Main St 1917 B and W crop

North Baltimore’s North Main Street, circa 1910.

 After the end of the Oil Boom, North Baltimore evolved into the major market town for area farmers.  The town was served by two railroads (Baltimore & Ohio, Cincinnati, Hamilton, & Dayton) and one Interurban streetcar line (Toledo, Bowling Green, & Southern) which made it easier for local citizens to travel.   The local railroads were also used for shipping grains and other agricultural products to outside markets and for bringing in goods for the local merchants.  Although the glass factories and other oil related business shut down or moved away, the town still retained a few factories.  The villages’ population did decline, but it eventually stabilized at approximately 3000 citizens for most of the 20th Century.  (18)

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, local citizens supported war bond drives and participated in patriotic meetings to support the war effort. North Baltimore furnished many men for the American military, five of whom died in the war.  Among these men was Vernon Wymer, the first Wood County soldier to be killed in action. The community experienced increased prosperity as prices for farm crops improved giving local farmers more money to spend with the town’s merchants.  (19)

However, in October 1918 the village was hard hit by the Spanish Flu Epidemic.  At one point, with over 300 cases of influenza and many deaths in the village, the mayor ordered the schools closed and all businesses to limit their hours of operation.  All public gatherings, including funerals, were prohibited.  Eventually the epidemic ran its course and business and daily life returned to normal.  With the end of the war in 1918, most of the local servicemen returned to their families and life returned to a slower pace. (20)

During the 1920s, North Baltimore was a relatively quiet town with little growth in either population or its economy.  Many villagers worked in three local factories, a stone quarry, a grain mill and elevator, on the railroad, or Main Street businesses.  Social life centered on churches or the numerous social clubs such as the Masons or International Order of Odd Fellows.  World War I veterans were very active in the newly formed American Legion.  National Prohibition had led to the shutdown of all the town’s saloons, although there were several local bootleggers who supplied thirsty local citizens with their alcohol.  Several major fires destroyed local landmarks such as the high school and the Rockwell Flour Mill.  For most of its citizens, life in this small Mid-Western town was peaceful and mildly prosperous, but this came to an end with the 1929 Stock Market Crash.  (21)

By the end of 1930 the town began to suffer the same hardships as the rest of the United States due to the Great Depression.  Many citizens ended up on welfare, farmers lost their farms to foreclosures, and some local businesses were forced to close.  But by the late 1930s, the local economy began to slowly improve. Various New Deal programs such as the WPA brought relief for many of the town’s poorer citizens.   Local merchants also saw an upturn in their sales by the late 1930s as the national economy improved and the country slowly worked its way out of the Depression.  (22)

The beginning of World War II in Europe in September 1939 also marked a turning point for the town.   Many townspeople found work in the larger cities around North Baltimore in factories which had received orders for military equipment for the expanding US armed forces.   With the advent of conscription in 1940, many young men left for military service.  Large numbers of local women were employed in local and area factories replacing men on the production lines.  Although the town’s citizens were subject to rationing and a scarcity of consumer goods, they experienced a prosperity they had not seen since the 1920s. (23)

The war was brought home to North Baltimore when Seaman Irven Thompson was killed on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.   Between December 7, 1941 and the end of World War II on September 2, 1945,  twenty additional North Baltimore area men lost their lives during the war.  Approximately 400 other North Baltimore area residents either volunteered for service or were conscripted into the US military during the war.  (24)

WW II howitzer at New Maplewood Cemetery1

This World War II era United States Army 105mm howitzer is located at New Maplewood Cemetery’s war memorial. 

 The Second Half of the 20th Century

 

From the 1950s to the end of the 20th Century, North Baltimore experienced only a modest growth in its economy and population.  A few new factories such as Continental Structural Plastics were constructed in the village and the D. S. Brown Company, a long time employer, continued to expand its factory.  Other long time industrial companies such as the Smith Foundry, the Norbalt Rubber Company, and the France Stone Company ceased operation.  By the early 1960s, local merchants faced increasing competition from stores in the larger cities as the opening of Interstate 75 made it easier to travel outside the community. As a result, many local businesses eventually closed as their owners retired or ceased operating. (25)

North Main from Railroad Tracks 2000

North Baltimore’s North Main Street, circa 2000

 The commercial area of Main Street underwent many physical changes during the 1950s and 60s. Although the basic buildings remained, owners began modernizing facades and store entrances with aluminum siding and roofs overhanging the sidewalk.  These efforts to follow new architectural design trends destroyed many of buildings original 19th Century features as ornate roof pinnacles and decorations, balconies with cast iron railings, and windows were removed.  Multicolored neon light advertising signs that glowed brightly at night replaced more traditional painted business signs.  However, in the 21st Century, many historic preservationists consider these types of modifications a form of architectural vandalism (26)

Main Street’s abandoned streetcar tracks were removed and the brick street surface was covered by asphalt. Although considered cheaper to maintain, the asphalt road surface further reduced the historic ambiance of the town’s major thoroughfare.  Perhaps the most positive change on Main Street was the replacement of sidewalk utility poles and power lines with metal light poles and underground transmission lines.  (27)

Unfortunately many of Main Street’s most historic and architecturally significant buildings were lost to fire or demolition during this period.  These buildings included the First National and Hardy Bank buildings and the 1890 City Hall building.  The loss of the City Hall building was very tragic as it was the village’s most significant example of 19th Century civic building architecture.  (28)

However, a number of civic improvements were made in the second half of the 20th Century.  The North Baltimore Emergency Medical Service was organized in November 1975.  To improve the village’s water supply, the two reservoirs were constructed as well as a new water treatment plant.  A waste water treatment plant was also built.   A new school building, Powell Elementary, was built on the north side of town.  A new library building was constructed in 1958 on Main Street and the library has undergone several expansions since then.  The North Baltimore Volunteer Fire Department continued to replace old fire engines with new fire trucks to provide the town with good fire protection.  Major additions to the town during this period were the Country Squire Apartments, the Westhaven apartments and Senior Citizen Center, and the Briar Hill Health Campus.  Other new construction included a new Masonic Lodge and American Legion post. The American Legion also erected a war memorial monument listing the names of all local servicemen who died in the service of their country in the 20th Century. (29)

The community’s recreational facilities were expanded during the latter part of the 20th Century.   The village park was expanded and the Slippery Elm Bike Trail was constructed from Bowling  Green to North Baltimore.  A commercial golf course was also built on the south end of town in 1965.  Additional sports field were added as well as improvements made to existing athletic fields.  (30)

In 1971, a musical venue called The Park was opened about one mile west of North Baltimore on State Route 18.  The 13 acre site had formerly been a slaughter house. However, it was converted to a place where thousands of young people gathered during the summer of 1971 to listen to Rock music.  Among the famous music groups of the era to perform there were Ike & Tina Turner and the Allman Brothers.   However, tension soon developed between the Park’s owners and some of the townspeople over accusations of rowdiness and drug use.  A series of incidents led the Wood County sheriff to close the facility, but it did reopen for a short period of time in 1972 before finally closing.  (31)

The 21st Century

CSX Railyard cropped

  The most significant development in the 21st Century in the North Baltimore area was the opening in 2011 of the CSX Railroad’s Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal Facility two miles west of town.  Trains loaded with Intermodal containers are moved into the facility where their cargo is unloaded and placed on trucks or other trains to be shipped to their final destinations. The yard employs over 300 people.   Both I-75 and State route 18 have undergone major improvements to facilitate truck traffic into the facility.  When the entire highway project is completed in 2018, the North Baltimore area will have the potential to be a major transportation hub and an ideal location for companies needing access to both rail and Interstate transportation networks.  (32)

North Baltimore has continued to grow in the 21st Century with its population now exceeding 3500 people.  New industries have located in the town or surrounding area providing additional employment.  A new combined junior and senior high school building was opened in 2012.  Other civic improvements have included modernization of the water and sewer systems to provide better utility services to the community.

Since 1998, the North Baltimore Ohio Area Historic Society (NBOAHS) has worked to preserve the community’s history.  The Society’s mission is to inform the public of the area’s rich 200 year history. It has an extensive local history collection of artifacts as well as documents and photographic archives at the North Baltimore Historical Center at 229 North Main Street.  Information about the Society and it hours of operations can be found on its website at http://www.northbaltimorehistory.org.  The NBOAHS will continue to collect and record the local history as North Baltimore will likely remain a historically significant community in southern Wood County during the 21st Century.

Footnotes:

  1. Beers Historical and Biographical Record Wood County, Ohio pp 285-6
  2. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors .p 7
  3. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors .p 7
  4. Beers Historical and Biographical Record Wood County, Ohio pp 282
  5. Beers Historical and Biographical Record Wood County, Ohio pp 285-6
  6. Black Swamp Soldiers: Henry Township Men in The Civil War. p. 6
  7. Beers Historical and Biographical Record Wood County, Ohio pp 285-6
  8. Beers Historical and Biographical Record Wood County, Ohio pp 285-6
  9. The North Baltimore, Ohio Story 1876-2001 pp 15-24
  10. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 15- 28
  11. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 28
  12. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 6-7
  13. North Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1891, pp 1-25
  14. North Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1891, pp 15-28
  15. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 28
  16. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, pp. 53-54
  17. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 28
  18. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 15-28
  19. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 55-57
  20. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 55-57
  21. NB Beacon, page 1 Oct. 18, 1918, Volume XXXIV
  22. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors pp. 59-61
  23. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 64
  24. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 69
  25. North Baltimore Ohio Area Historical Society archives, unpublished manuscript by Tom Boltz
  26. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, pp. 61-63
  27. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 71-78
  28. North Baltimore and Its Neighbors p. 71-78
  29. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, p. 54
  30. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, p. 51
  31. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, pp. 83-85
  32. The North Baltimore Story 1876-1976, p 86
  33. CSX Finishes Rail Yard Expansion At Hub In Northwestern Ohio. Findlay Courier, Mar 9th, 2015

 

 

 

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