The last to be formed in 1888, Allen Township is in the county’s northwest corner, and grew out of a desire on the part of its residents to have their own identity separate from Clay Township. Mostly rural, it includes Clay Center and Curtice. Among its first settlers was William “Billy” Clark, a poor immigrant from England, whose entrepreneurial spirit was responsible for early development. Clark was the founder of Clay Center. Today, Allen Township is made up of both farm and bedroom communities. In recent years, its proximity to Toledo has made it attractive for housing developments.
Geographically the largest, Benton Township was formed in 1850, when it was sectioned off from Harris Township. Originally a small-farm community, it is now home to many large-acreage agricultural enterprises. The township includes, among others, Graytown and Rocky Ridge; the latter was once a boomtown because of its limestone deposits. In 2002, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission chose the Lowe Farm at Gridis Corner to have its barn adorned with a special painting commemorating Ohio’s 200th birthday. For two months in May, visitors arrive from all over the world to observe migrating birds that stop to rest and feed at the Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.
In 1835, Timothy Sherman from Huron County brought a yoke of oxen into the Great Black Swamp, and found a piece of arable land that he began cultivating, meanwhile deriving substantial income from wolf bounties. In 1837, Harvey Warriner arrived and opened a trading post. Thus was born what became the village of Genoa, which, with its surroundings, became Clay Township, sectioned off from Harris. Although begun as an agrarian community, it soon developed commercially with the discovery of high-quality limestone. Its proximity to Toledo, with a well developed shipping infrastructure, soon made it a prime source of that commodity on both the national and world markets. In 1888, Allen Township was split off from Clay. Today, Clay Township, with Genoa at its center, continues to produce limestone and agricultural products, and is a bedroom community for the Toledo area.
Clay Center Village:
Founded by William “Billy” Clark who, with his wife, Susanna, had emigrated from England in the 1840s, a small settlement began in Clay Township a few miles north of Genoa. The hard-working Clark had moved from Port Clinton to open a business that supplied wood to the railroad, then opened a store, and soon plotted a village on land he owned. Hoping it would become the township’s jurisdictional focus, he named it Clay Center. But with the success of Genoa, Clay Center became part of Allen Township in 1888. Kelly Island Lime and Transport opened a quarry nearby, which further fueled the village’s commerce and local importance. Today, the quarry is considered a prime source of Silurian-aged Lockport Dolomite.
Curtice was one of many settlements that grew up along the Wheeling & Lake Erie tracks. Now situated in both Lucas and Ottawa Counties, it was once know for lumber, having been founded by Joshua E. Curtice, who had started a sawmill in the area. By the early 20th century, the town served the surrounding Allen Township agricultural community with a church, general store, lumber distributor, two hotels, a hardware store, and a saloon. Soon, it could also boast a dance hall, and was connected to other communities by an interurban line. Today, it remains a farm town, while also serving as a residential community for Toledo.
The oldest continuous settlement in western Ottawa County is Elmore, which Joseph Harris started in 1817 as a trading post for exchanging goods with the Ottawa; the word Ottawa means “people who trade.” Located on the trail between Lower Sandusky and Toledo, two rapidly expanding communities, Elmore developed as a local commercial and cultural center. Lower Sandusky later became Fremont, and the trail became State Route 51. The town was briefly home to the Elmore Manufacturing Company, maker of the Elmore Bicycle, and later the Elmore Car. Today, it is primarily a residential community.
In 1835, Timothy Sherman brought a team of oxen with him from Huron County to what was then a very wet part of part of Sandusky County. Thanks to drainage by Packer Creek, he found a few tillable acres. He supported his family from both farming and collecting on wolf bounties. More folks followed, and soon the discovery of high-grade limestone transformed the area. Genoa became an important source of lime products to the national marketplace and, a commercial center for Clay Township, the focus of a burgeoning farm community, a combined legacy that continues to this day. More recently, the town has become a bedroom community for Toledo.
Like so many other settlements along the tracks, Graytown rose and fell with the fortunes of the railroad industry. Starting out with a few homes clustered around a dusty depot in Benton Township, Graytown grew to include several saw mills, a hotel/boarding house, general store, millinery shop, hardware store, barber shop, church, grain elevator, butter factory, wagon maker, saloon, and blacksmith shop. Especially unique to the town was the Cloverleaf Medicine Factory and its red clover bud drier, which supplied a Chicago medical firm that marketed patent medicines. Today, Graytown, without significant industry, remains a small residential community.
In the southwest corner of the county, the Portage River was just shallow enough for a natural crossing through rapids, which linked the two trails that followed either side of the river. Joseph Harris built a cabin there in 1817, and began to trade with the Ottawa, having discovered a place where river and foot traffic intersected. From that humble beginning arose, first, a settlement that became the village of Elmore, and then Harris Township, originally part of Sandusky County, was carved out of this part of the Great Black Swamp. Its development started with a land rich in wildlife, then lumber, arable soil, and later high-quality limestone. Today it is a farming community, with Elmore at its center. Just after the formation of Ottawa County, a twelve-mile section of Harris Township was given to Woodville Township in Sandusky County, and later, Allen, Benton, and Clay Township were formed out of the remaining parcel, giving Harris its current dimensions.
Ottawa National Wildife Refuge:
Part of the National Wildlife Refuge System of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge lies near the Lake Erie shore, situated in both Lucas and Ottawa Counties. It was established in 1961in what was once part of the vast network of forests, wetlands and grasslands that made up the Great Black Swamp. Much of that original swamp has been replaced by cultivation. The Ottawa Refuge has about 6,500 acres of wetland, grassland, and wooded habitat, providing a natural home to a diversity of waterfowl and other migratory birds, resident wildlife, and endangered and threatened species. Its purpose is not just to serve the needs of wildlife, but as both an educational resource and a public commitment to restore the practical functions of the Lake Erie marshes and their vast ecosystem.
Rocky Ridge Village:
Starting out in 1851 as a rail head for the Junction Railroad Company, Rocky Ridge was a prosperous community by the 1870s, serving shipping needs of local agriculture, lumber and limestone. It soon supported three churches, several lime kilns, numerous sawmills, stave factories, a rim and hoop business, and at least nine saloons. Natural gas was so abundant that drilling by the Rocky Ridge Oil and Gas Company would often release gushers, and in 1914, the company hooked up all the town’s residents to their wells. Closing of the quarries began an economic downturn that was later exacerbated by slow decline of the railroads. Today, Rocky Ridge is a quiet residential community of about 150 households.
Schedel Aboretum & Gardens:
Appreciation of nature is what initially drove the establishment of the Schedel Arboretum & Gardens just outside Elmore in 1989. The Foundation had its roots in the unique blend of vision and accomplishments of the Schedel family beginning in 1929. Joseph and Marie Schedel were acclaimed internationally for their preservation of rare waterfowl, a collection and elegant display of plants, and accumulation of antique oriental art. The Aboretum & Gardens today offers to the public unique opportunities to appreciate art, nature, and culture, all contained within one beautiful setting, as well as to understand the enduring relationship between plants and people.
Founded in 1882, Williston has long been the center of activity for the surrounding area, beginning with formation of the religious community that built Saint John Lutheran Church in 1884. The town’s commerce grew to include lumber, coal and numerous service enterprises. In 1928, Pastor Max Schleicher and a group of supporters started the Luther Home of Mercy as a way to offer humanitarian care to people with developmental disabilities, which was a ground-breaking effort, far ahead of its time. The Luther Home still operates in that capacity on twenty-five acres, and has expanded to include three additional facilities in other locations. Williston is a small residential community in the middle of farm country in Allen Township.