March 1 and April 1 should be important dates for residents of Madison and Union counties. Madison County was formed on March 1, 1810, and Union County on April 1, 1820.
If you were paying attention in your Ohio history class in eighth grade, you will remember that Ohio was originally part of the Northwest Territory, established in 1787. By 1800, the population of the Territory had grown to the point that two separate territories were created from it, the Indiana and the Ohio territories. Within two years, the population of the Ohio territory exceeded the 45,000 required for statehood, and the constitution of the state of Ohio was adopted on Nov. 29, 1802. (Travel and communications being what they were in that era, it was the following spring before Ohio was formally admitted to the Union.)
In 1802, there were seven counties in Ohio — Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Ross, Adams, Fairfield and Belmont. What is now Madison County was then part of Ross County.
The rapid influx of new settlers attracted by the fertile farmland of central Ohio led to the formation of Franklin County on April 30, 1803 from Ross and Fairfield counties. It included what is now Madison County, which was then known as Darby Township.
By 1810 the population of Darby Township was large enough to be considered for designation as a separate county. A petition was presented by the Darby Township settlers to the State Legislature, which passed an act on Feb. 16 decreeing that Madison County would be created as of March 1, 1810.
The outlines of Madison County were not quite as we know them today. Surveys were done on all or parts of the county boundaries in 1810, 1811, 1818, 1820, 1821, 1825, 1827, 1828 and 1845. To say that these early surveys were not exactly scientific is something of an understatement. Consider this report from David Chapman in 1827: “Beginning at the northeast corner of Canaan Township, in the line between the counties of Franklin and Madison, running with said line south one and a half miles, marked by a hackberry, sugar and a hickory, for a corner between said counties; thence east two miles, marked a mulberry and a small beech for a corner between said counties (a beech for a mile tree); thence north four miles, and marked a beech for the northeast corner of Madison County, on the north side of the Post Road; a small ash for the first mile tree, a sugar tree for the second, a beech for the third mile.”
You cannot help but wonder what would happen to the measurements if someone needed hickory or beech wood.
Lucas Sullivant had laid out a town he named North Liberty along Big Darby Creek north of Plain City’s present location. In 1798, brothers James and Joshua Ewing were the first settlers there. Joshua Ewing was one of the first Madison County commissioners in 1810. Again, the population increased rapidly in the area to the north of Big Darby, and in January of 1820, under the sponsorship of James Curry, the Jerome Township representative in the State Legislature, an act was passed creating Union County from portions of Franklin, Madison, Delaware and Logan counties. The Ewing brothers were not the only settlers to find that they had moved from Madison County to Union County while standing still.
As with Madison County, several surveys were needed to definitively establish the boundaries of the new county. At least by the last such survey in 1881, degrees of latitude and longitude rather than trees were being used as markers.
Plain City, when Isaac Bigelow laid it out 200 years ago, was firmly in Madison County. But after 1820, the northern part of the village found itself in Union County. Our divided condition has been a source of confusion, amusement, frustration and a certain amount of pride ever since. After all, how many towns have a school with the front door in one county and the back door in another?
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
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