The History of Mercer County

Compiled by Bronsart H. Gilberg, Mercer County Historical Society

Mercer County was set apart and established as a separate county, January 2, 1824. During a 61 year period after the Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory, Mercer County was a part of six different counties. Its first affiliation was as a part of Knox County, which was the narrow area lying west of the Great Miami River from its mouth in the Ohio to a point north of Piqua and extending into what was Indiana Territory. This is not to be confused with what is now Knox County, Ohio.

Mercer County was named in honor of General Hugh Mercer, a hero of the Revolutionary War.

General Arthur St. Clair met his disastrous defeat near the headwaters of the Wabash River in Mercer County, November 4, 1791. His original army of 2000 men, poorly equipped and the majority of the untrained, had decreased to 1400, mainly by desertion. Of this number, about 900 were killed, wounded or missing after being surprised and ambushed by the Indians under their famous chief, Little Turtle.

General Anthony Wayne, the ablest of President Washington’s General, with 5000 well equipped men skilled in Indian warfare, cut their way to the site of the St. Clair defeat, where he routed the Indians and built Fort Recovery. Later he built Fort Adams in the northern part of Mercer County, on the St. Marys River. Leaving a garrison and supplies there, he proceeded to the Maumee River where he defeated the united Indian tribes and saved the Northwest Territory. A replica of old Fort Recovery and its stockade now stands on the original site which, along with a Museum is an excellent tourist attraction.

The first church in Mercer County was built of logs in 1818, near the present site of Mendon. The first school was started in 1824 at Shanesville, now Rockford. The oldest town in the county is Rockford, founded in 1820 and named Shanesville, by the founder Anthony Shane, half French and Indian who operated a trading post on the St. Marys River, prior to 1820.

The ancient Teays River which coursed through the Mid-eastern states more than a million years ago was the forerunner of the present river systems. The Ohio, Muskingum, Scioto, Miami, and the Wabash Rivers were not in existence in that era. The Teays had its source in the mountains of North Carolina and after flowing through West Virginia entered Ohio territory near Huntington, WV. The glaciers of the ice age planed off hills and filled valleys and filled valleys and covered the bed of the Teays to depths from 300 to 400 feet, of stones, gravel, soil and other debris. The drilling of deep water wells throughout Ohio has enabled archeologist to quickly and accurately follow its course through deposits brought to the surface. The Teays passed through Mercer County in a northwesterly direction after entering the eastern boundary.

While very few mounds are found as far north as Mercer County, this fringe area of the domain of the Mound Builders of the Hopewell era contains ten earthworks including enclosures, burial grounds and one mound.

Mercer County was in the territory of the powerful and warlike Miami Indian tribe. Later during the early 1800s, Shawnees moved from southeastern Ohio to the St. Marys River where they lived on Reservations until the Government moved them to a Reservation in Kansas. A lesser number migrated to Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

The first explorer to pass through Mercer County was Charles Langlade, a French-Indian, in 1752. He was enroute to Pickawillany (Piqua) where in a surprise attack he dealt British prestige a severe blow. Miami Chief La Demoiselle, friend of the British, was killed.

Celina, the county seat, was founded in 1834 by James W. Riley, who later platted Van Wert and Paulding. His father Captain James Riley laid out Willshire. It was incorporated in 1860 and the first election was in 1851.

Other Incorporated towns in Mercer County are:

  • Shanesville, founded 1820 and incorporated in 1866 as Shanes Crossing (now Rockford),
  • Mendon, founded in 1834 (as Guilford) and incorporated in 1881 as Mendon,
  • Ft. Recovery, founded in1836 and incorporated in 1858,
  • St. Henry, founded in 1837 and incorporated in1901,
  • Coldwater, founded in 1859 and incorporated in 1883,
  • Chickasaw, founded in1838 and incorporated in1890,
  • Burkettsville, founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1902,
  • Montezuma, founded in 1835 and incorporated in 1894.

The History of Grand Lake

Grand Lake, the favorite spot for thousands of vacationists from Ohio and neighboring states, came into being as a reservoir to supply water for the Miami and Erie canal. It was started in 1837 and completed in 1845 at a cost of approximately $600,000. The 17,500 acre reservoir was for many years the largest artificial body of water in the world,* until the building of Hoover Dam.

Approximately 1,700 men were employed in constructing the east and west banks. Their wages amounted to 30 cents a day plus one jigger of whiskey. The days work was from sunrise to sunset. The workmen lived in shanties while they worked on the lake, but many of them remained after to take up farm land in this area.

The completion of the canal and its feed-reservoir made a vast difference in living costs. Freight rates dropped from $1.00 for hauling a bushel of wheat to 15 cents for hauling a ton of wheat 100 miles. The canal did a thriving business until it was supplanted by the railways.

Packet boats used to come up the canal, follow the canal feeder to the East Bank Bulkhead where they entered the lake, then crossed from the East Bank to the West Bank, making deliveries of passengers and supplies to Celina from Cincinnati or Toledo.

The lake was no longer needed to feed the canal, but had gained growing popularity among recreationists and sportsmen, by 1915, when the General Assembly of the State of Ohio passed an act through which this body of water and adjacent lands owned by the State were dedicated and set apart forever for the use of the public, as public parks or pleasure resorts.

Since that time the State of Ohio has spent many thousands of dollars in the development of the state parks at the lake, providing for public recreation. Private investors have spent many more thousands to provide for amusement and relaxation so that today the lake has much to offer those who seek to get away for a day, a week, a month, or longer.

Good fishing opens early in the spring, and continues until late in the fall. Crappies, catfish, and bass are numerous with bluegills and perch in fewer number.

The lake has 52 miles of shore line, much of which is readily accessible to the public. It is approximately nine miles long and three miles wide.

Black water pools, have been built within the last few years in the state parks, so that fisherman find these pools waiting for them with good fishing when the lake is too rough.

There are roadways following the lake shore line, offering plenty of spots for scenic pleasure. Audubon followers can find bird life galore along the shore line. Natural sand beaches are popular with bathers.

Boaters will find well-marked channels for their outboard motors. These lanes go from one end of the lake to the other with leads to channel landings.

Old-timers about Grand Lake recall when fish were taken out of it by the barrels for sale commercially. They were shipped up and down the canal. Today fish are no longer caught by the barrels-full, but there are some splendid catches.

During the oil boom in this area, in the 1890s, many oil wells were drilled in Grand Lake and were among the best producers. All of these were abandoned and plugged some years ago. Today, a large rock pile has been built on the place where the last derrick stood serving
as a reminder of the days when derricks studded the wide expanse of water.

*Grand Lake is 8.2 miles (43,360?) long and 3.1 miles wide. Due to the parkland filled in on the east and west ends of the lake, the lake now covers 13,500 acres instead of 17,500 it originally covered.