Actually, even though the Benedicts were the first settlers in the village, the corporate limits have expanded to include earlier settlements such as the Underhill Settlement where Sycamore Hills is located off West Main Street. David Underhill first built a cabin on that farm in 1812, and in 1816 brought his family there to settle in a larger log house.
Luke Keeler married Jemima Benedict (a cousin to Platt Benedict) in Connecticut, and they and their family were part of the Benedict party coming to Ohio in 1817. The Keelers bought a farm near East Main Street and Townsend Avenue (then way out in the country from Norwalk) and lived there for many years afterward.
When the Benedicts arrived in September of 1817, John and Ruth Lockwood Boalt already were here and were building (or had built already) a cabin on the site of Woodlawn Cemetery at Woodlawn Avenue and Old State Road. Thus we find at least three families settled within the present corporate limits of Norwalk at the time the Benedicts arrived, but it was many years before the sites I’ve listed became incorporated into Norwalk proper.
That first winter of 1817-1818 in Ohio was a lonely one for the Benedicts, as they were the only family in the limits of what was to become the town of Norwalk. Mrs. Benedict wrote in later years that their nearest neighbor was three miles away, though Underhills actually were less than two miles away and Keelers were even closer. In studying local history, I’ve always felt that the Benedicts and their cousins the Keelers were never very close, since neither family mentions the other very often in writing of their Ohio pioneer experiences. Very little published material is available locally concerning the Keelers.
Some other “near” neighbors to the Benedicts in 1817 were the Lockwood and Gibbs famililes in their double cabin near 58 North Old State Road; Samuel B. Lewis on the east side of Old State Road just north of the U.S, 20 bypass; and Hanson Read on South Norwalk Road just west of Ridge Road. Of course, we must remember that people couldn’t travel much in those days due to the poor roads and the need to stay home and tend to the improvement of their farm.
The spring of 1818 found more settlers coming to Norwalk, especially young men with a skill such as cabinetmaking, blacksmithing, carpentry and masonry. Platt Benedict had recruited a number of these people, knowing that their living here would make the village more attractive for other potential settlers. His idea worked, especially after the seat of county government was moved to Norwalk in 1818. People had to come to Norwalk to pay their taxes, file lawsuits, and so on, and while they were in town, they’d buy some yard goods, or boots, or some new dishes or whatever. No wonder Main Street had three blocks or more of retail business establishments in those early days.
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.