Symmes Township, Ohio, now a prosperous suburban region located in the northeast corner of Hamilton County, played an important role in the growth of the United States. For thousands of years the area’s fertile land, location, and numerous waterways have attracted people to the region. That the Symmes Township name has remained well into the twenty-first century symbolizes the legacy left by John Cleves Symmes. It also represents the importance of the Symmes Purchase, also known as the Miami Purchase, to the growth early America. Symmes chose wisely in his land purchase. His vision for settlement in young America’s newly acquired western lands helped create the foundation for the City of Cincinnati, as well as the State of Ohio.
Approximately 15,000 years ago, the first humans entered the region following the trails of big game animals, such as Mastodon. Almost three thousand years ago, the region’s residents, known as the Ohio Woodland People (800 BC to 1200AD), began building earthen burial mounds and complex geometric earthworks. These ancient cultures left the Ohio River Valley landscape covered with over 10,000 earthworks and left behind evidence of a trade network that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes region. In approximately 900 AD, a culture unique to the Southwestern Ohio region appeared. Known as the Fort Ancient culture, its people created large permanent villages in the area and are believed by many to be the ancestors of the Shawnee.
By the mid–1600s, the large villages in the region were abandoned as European disease and hostilities among the Iroquois, British and French disrupted life in the region. The Iroquois Confederacy wanted to expand their territory and control trade with the Europeans. They began a campaign, known as the French and Iroquois War, moving west and then south along the Great Lakes, causing waves of displacement and migrations as other Native American groups fled south and west. The word Ohio derives from an Iroquois word meaning beautiful.
During the early to mid 1700’s, the region repopulated. Due to its vast natural resources, prime continental location, and easy access by waterways, control of the region remained highly contested by Native Americans, the French and British until after the American Revolution. In 1753 the Ohio Valley region was occupied by the French military. Virginian George Washington was sent as a representative of the Virginia militia to the Ohio Valley to deliver a message to the French demanding that they give claim to the Ohio region to the British. War erupted between the French and British with various Native American groups supporting each side. Resolved in the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the French passed possession of the land northwest of the Ohio River to the British who then in turn gave it to the Americans in the treaty ending the American Revolution in 1783. In 1786, at the mouth of the Great Miami River, the United States signed the Treaty of Fort Finney with the Shawnee granting the U.S. an uncontested right to the land between the Miami Rivers.
Judge John Cleves Symmes (1742–1814) & The Symmes Purchase
After serving as a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress, John Cleves Symmes turned his eye toward settlement of America’s newly acquired land to the west. Symmes became interested in settling the land between the Great Miami and Little Miami Rivers thanks to Captain Benjamin Stites. In the spring of 1787, Stites traveled down the Ohio River from Redstone, Pennsylvania on a trading expedition. Near the vicinity of Maysville, Kentucky, local Native Americans stole several horses. Stites and a party set out to recover the horses. When they reached the mouth of the Little Miami River, the party headed northward and finally ended their pursuit empty handed near the headwaters of the Little Miami River. As they retraced their steps back toward the Ohio River, Stites decided to promote settlement in the fertile region. Soon thereafter, Stites met with Judge John Cleves Symmes in New Jersey and quickly persuaded him of the area’s potential for settlement.
Experienced in government, Symmes had the knowledge and connections to bring Stites idea to reality. Prior to the American Revolution, Symmes worked as a teacher and land surveyor. During the Revolution, he served as a colonel of a militia regiment. He went on to serve as a delegate to the New Jersey state convention and to help draft the state constitution. He was a member of the Continental Congress for two years and served as a New Jersey Supreme Court judge for twelve.
In 1784, 1785 and 1787, the U.S. Congress passed a series of land ordinances for surveying and selling land north of the Ohio River. The final one, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, included provisions for the development of states with the area east of the Mississippi, South of the great Lakes and North of the Ohio. Under these ordinances, Symmes applied to the federal government for the land. Though he received only a tentative agreement, in November of 1787 he began advertising to promote sales of the land. The following month he began issuing certificates on the land known as “Miami Land Warrants.” The first one was issued to Benjamin Stites who quickly settled, relocated and founded the village of Columbia west of the Little Miami. The second sale of land went to a group led by Mathias Denman, Colonel Robert Patterson and Robert Filson. They founded Losantiville, now present day Cincinnati.
On February 19, 1788, Symmes was elected by Congress to be one of the judges for the Northwest Territory. In 1789, Symmes founded the third settlement in the area North Bend. He went on to lay out the plat for the town site of Cleves. While Columbia and Losantiville prospered, North Bend, due in large part to flooding problems, never became as successful. His daughter, Anna, married another North Bend resident, William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States. Symmes spent his latter years still sorting out land claim conflicts resulting from the Symmes Purchase. He passed away in 1824.
The Legacy of the Symmes Purchase
Due to improper surveys of the region and over ambition on Symmes part, he sold more land than covered by his 1788 agreement. In 1792, he petitioned Congress and the contract was extended. Symmes however continued to oversell land, selling tracts from the Ohio River, the Great Miami River to the West, and the Little Miami River to the East and to the North, almost to present day Dayton. In 1811, the Symmes home at North Bend burned down destroying all the original land certificates. While Symmes' questionable business practices created confusion and litigation, the overselling of lands helped the region populate quickly.
The Symmes Purchase was one of the first major land deals after the American Revolution in the Northwest Territory. It created the foundation for not only the city of Cincinnati and the state of Ohio, but for settlement and statehood as Americans pushed further west. In 1789, in part because of a request made by John Symmes to guarantee settlers not encounter any hostilities with any Native Americans still remaining in the area, Northwest Territory Governor Arthur St. Clair established Fort Washington near Losantiville. By 1790, an estimated two thousand had settled on Symmes Purchase land. That same year Gov. St Clair visited the region changing the name of Losantiville to Cincinnati, and creating Hamilton County. By 1800, the population of the area had increased to 15,000. This rapid expansion along with other major land purchases, such as the Ohio Company, gave Ohio the population required for admission to statehood under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. In 1803, Ohio became the first new state in the Northwest Territory. In 1803, as per the terms of the purchase contract, John Cleves Symmes donated 23,040 acres to be used for “an academy and other public schools and seminaries of learning”. It would be the site of Miami University, which opened first as an academy in 1818, then as a college in 1824.
Early Settlers of Symmes Township
Many of the early settlers in the Miami Valley region were veterans of the American Revolution. After the American Revolution, the young government lacked the money to fully pay soldiers. Soldiers were permitted to use the IOU’s issued during the war as payment for land in the Northwest Territory. This arrangement made the purchase of land in Ohio easy for Revolutionary soldiers. Also, many either saw the area or heard tales during the war of the fertile land, rivers and tributaries, and abundant natural resources in the Miami Valley.
These early settlers worked together to clear land, construct homes, build business, form schools, create churches, and get crops to market. In addition to farming, particularly wheat, settlers developed a variety of small industries. In particular, the waters of the Little Miami made it ideal for building mills. Services, now provided by local governments, were then handled by the community. For fire protection, communities organized volunteer bucket brigades and kept rain barrels in case the fire was too far from the area’s many creeks, rivers and springs. As areas broke off into independent political entities, some required all residents to keep leather buckets, and all residents were expected to volunteer in putting out fires. By the 1830’s, villages and townships were pulling their resources to purchase hand pump fire engines.
One of the earliest settlers to the Symmes Township area was revolutionary soldier, Christian Waldschmidt. Waldschmidt traveled with a group of twenty other families to the United States to escape religious persecution in 1786. They first settled in Pennsylvania, where they built his first paper mill. In late 1794, Waldschmidt and the other families traveled to the location of what is now Camp Dennison, where they would found New Germany. After settling the area, Waldschmidt built a church that he would preach at every Sunday. He went on to build a grist mill, a distillery, and a paper mill. He built the first paper mill in the state of Ohio in New Germany in 1800. This was the first paper mill west of Philadelphia. Paper from Waldschmidt’s mill was used in the first newspaper published in Cincinnati. Waldschmidt died a wealthy man in March of 1814. The value of his various properties was $48,914. The town continued to prosper. In addition to the mills, it had a distillery, shoemaker, large general store and a blacksmith, Kugler. Symmes Township, itself was created between 1820 and 1826. In 1825, it became an independent political entity, including the settlement of Germany. In 1817, James Pollack platted the village of Polktown, frequently called “The Company Mill” due to the number of mills in the area.
The Associate Reformed Presbyterians congregation was founded in 1795. They settled along Montgomery Road at Sixteen-Mile Stand. Their church, Sycamore United Presbyterian Church, built in 1848, still remains. In 1802, Nathaniel Terwilliger drew up the village plat for nearby Montgomery. Located at the intersection of Shawnee and Miami Indian trails that ran North/South and East/West, the village quickly became a major stage coach route. In 1816, with the capital of Ohio established in Columbus, Montgomery Road became the State road from Cincinnati to Columbus, and Montgomery Road became a major stage coach stop. The name Sixteen-Mile Stand results from the use of Montgomery Road as a stage coach route. It was literally a stage coach stopping point, or stand, sixteen miles from Cincinnati. This route eventually became known as the 3 C Highway and connected Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
The turnpike system in Ohio was created from 1830-1844. Combined with the canal system and the use of steamboats down the Ohio to the Mississippi River to New Orleans, Cincinnati became the gateway for Ohio goods to reach eastern and even international markets. In 1836, the state of Ohio issued the state charter for the Little Miami Rail Road. The section crossing through Symmes Township along the Little Miami River was completed in 1842. While the rail road proved profitable, it brought a variety of changes to the region. Towns, such as Germany, that had prospered failed to grow in population after the railroad opened.
During the Civil War, in addition to local residents volunteering for the Union army, a major military camp and hospital were established north of Waldschmidt’s settlement of Germany. In April of 1861, George B. McClellan, Major General of Ohio Militia, chose the outskirts of Cincinnati for a military camp. A former officer working for McClellan, William S. Rosecrans, chose the location of what would be Camp Dennison. After only a few weeks, 11,000 men had enlisted to military service at Camp Dennison. One well known regiment of Camp Dennison was Die Neuner, the German regiment, which was the first regiment to sign on for three years in the state of Ohio. Illness was a common issue at Camp Dennison during the first few months, until the Sisters of Charity nuns volunteered to tend the sick. In July of 1863, John Morgan and his 2000 troops stopped to rest within sight of Camp Dennison, after traveling ninety miles in 35 hours. All that occurred was a light skirmish, after which Morgan and his men departed, relatively unscathed. After the Civil War, Camp Dennison was shut down in September of 1865. Many stayed and settled in Camp Dennison after the Civil War, including a number of African-American families who came to the area during the war. They formed a denomination in 1888 and constructed their church, Mt. Olive Baptist Church in 1896.
1870’s - 1920’s
While the population of the region grew slightly and the local economy began to change, the area remained primarily a farming community. As the transportation of goods shifted from waterways to railways, Cincinnati lost it’s prominence as a central shipping city. Railroads also impacted the economic importance of Symmes Township. Townships once made easily accessible by road and waterway lost prominence as railroads made business elsewhere more convenient. The stage coach stops along the Montgomery Road section of the 3C highway lost popularity, as more passengers chose to travel by train. However, beginning in the 1870’s, the railroads also helped bring new settlers to the Symmes Township area. Some used the area for resort purposes, and others relocated permanently, leading to the incorporation of Loveland in 1876.
New industries also developed in the region. One of these companies, the Victor Stamping Company, built housing for its workers. Named Twightwee, the subdivision was started in 1907 and eventually contained seventeen single story brick houses.
During the same period, local police services expanded. In 1885, the Sixteen Mile Stand Horse Rangers incorporated for the purposes of detecting and arresting “horse-thieves and other criminals.” Prior to this, local constables generally served court papers and made arrests. These constables worked in conjunction with the township Justice of the Peace. By the early twentieth century, constables were an elected position whose services were augmented by organizations such as the Sixteen Mile Stand Horse Rangers. Policing remained a primarily local institution, with approximately 147 police agencies in the greater-Cincinnati area by 1930’s.
In the 1910’s, when Henry Ford’s assembly line made automobiles affordable to more Americans, the area experienced another wave of change. The old stage coach route became popular as an automobile route. During the 1910’s and 1920’s, automobile routes began appearing on state maps. One of Ohio’s most famous motorways was the 3 C Highway, eventually renamed State Route 3. As the popularity of automobile travel increased, businesses catering to automobile passengers developed along Montgomery Road.
In the 1930’s, Blong’s General Store opened on the corner of Montgomery and Blong Roads. Once, the site of a general store built around 1900, it served as a community gathering place for the still largely farming community. The store survived significant changes in the American market place. By the 1930’s, Americans were already purchasing canned food goods, but the Blong’s General Store likely also sold locally produced goods. During the Depression, chain grocery stores began opening providing goods at prices cheaper than local general stores could provide. The 1940’s and 1950’s brought an increase in national brand name goods. General stores, such as Blong’s, could no longer sell locally produced goods as customers expected brand names. Blong’s General Store survived the transition and remained open until 1983.
The 1930’s saw two new famous landmarks added to the area. In 1930, Harry Andrews, began construction on Chateau LaRoche, otherwise know as the Loveland Castle complete with towers and battlements. In 1931, Arthur Rozzi moved his family’s fireworks business from New Castle, Pennsylvania to an area of Symmes Township. Arhthur emigrated from Italy as a young child with his family. His father, having learned the fireworks business in Italy, settled in America’s largest fireworks producing area, New Castle, Pennsylvania and opened a fireworks company. The fireworks company, known as Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks and the Tri-State manufacturing Co., Inc., remained a source of pride in the region well into the twenty-first century.
From Farmland to Suburb
After World War II, the landscape of Symmes Township changed yet again as automobile ownership increased and suburbs grew throughout the nation. In 1948, the Planning Commission completed the Metropolitan Master Plan for the Cincinnati region. It included the construction of two limited access highways, one heading towards Dayton, the other towards Columbus. With the passage of the Interstate highway Act of 1956, these highways became I-75 and I-71. I-75 opened in 1964 and 1-71 in 1974, I-275 in 1979. The opening of these expressways transformed Symmes Township from a sparsely populated area made up primarily of farms to a bustling suburban community. From 1951 through 1988, sections of Symmes Township were annexed to the near-by communities. As the farmland was annexed, the building of suburban subdivisions increased. In the 1980’s, after the completion of the I-275 loop in 1979, suburban development exploded, taking the region from a population of 3,726 in 1970 to the present day population of over 14,600.
Modern Day Symmes Township
From 1951 through 1988, sections of Symmes Township were annexed to the near-by communities. As the farmland was annexed, the building of suburban subdivisions increased. In the 1980’s, after the completion of the I-275 loop in 1979, suburban development exploded, taking the region from a population of 3,726 in 1970 to the present day population of 14,683 on 8.5 square miles.
Today, the Symmes Township Board of Trustees operates the Township government on an annual budget of approximately $8,000,000. Symmes Township provides its residents and businesses modern government services, including police protection through a contract with the Hamilton County Sheriff, and fire and EMS services through a contract with the Loveland Symmes Fire Department. A pioneer in shared services and outsourcing, Symmes Township operates a modern and responsive government with a total of only 13 regular employees and several seasonal employees.
Symmes Township is strategically located for business, and well-appointed for attractive residential. As a result, the Township experiences healthy re-investment in its business infrastructure as well as in its residential neighborhoods. In 2010, the median home value in Symmes Township stood at $281,868, as compared to Hamilton County overall at $148,200. Recently, the Vantiv Corporation invested $8,000,000 in its newly renovated corporate-owned headquarters at Symmes Township’s Governor’s Hill office complex. Symmes Township has demonstrated sustainability, a place of strong family-oriented residential subdivisions and a favored location for businesses to locate and prosper.
Symmes Township’s park system is extensive and provides diverse recreational opportunities for residents. The Township maintains and operates eight community parks, totaling over 196 acres. Symmes Township youth are well served by a diverse offering of recreational fields that cater to organized sports, including soccer, lacrosse and baseball. Interesting and unique playgrounds, including a wet playground at the 54 acre Home of the Brave Park, beautiful shelters and extensive trails provide many hours of enjoyment to Symmes families.
Finally, modern Symmes Township is served by three school districts: Loveland, Sycamore and Indian Hill Schools. Always an indicator of community strength, these three school districts have long excelled, frequently receiving the highest possible rating from the State of Ohio, “Excellent with Distinction.”