Butler Township History
Published accounts of Butler Township’s early history indicate that the area’s settlement had begun around the turn of the 19th century, although the township was not officially established until October 7, 1817, made up of parts of Wayne and Randolph townships. In her book, Beside the Stillwater, Dora Brentlinger states that there were settlers in the area east of the Stillwater River prior to 1800, with about a dozen families living in what was known as “Stillwater Woods” when Ohio became a state in 1803.
Drury’s History of Dayton and Montgomery County states that the area was first settled by people from the Carolinas. In fact, it was around 1800 when Martin Davenport and David Hoover, Sr., first came from North Carolina to the Stillwater region prospecting for land. Satisfied with what they found, the two headed back to North Carolina to retrieve their families. While Davenport died during the trip home, Hoover returned in the spring of 1802, accompanied by several North Carolina families and followed in later years by many others.
A large number of the settlers from North Carolina were members of the Society of Friends. The earliest of them came between 1805 and 1808, and this led to the construction of a crude meetinghouse in the southern part of the township in 1809.
Records show that once surveyed into sections, Butler Township land sold to various purchasers between 1805 and 1831.
Bounded on the east by the Miami River and on the west by the Stillwater River, the waterways provided economic opportunity. Originally swampy, the land in the northern part was transformed to rich agricultural land by way of artificial drainage. The area was unmatched in water power, grain production, and various types of mills.
Mills and More Mills
The banks of Butler Township’s rivers and streams were dotted – and in some places lined – with mills of all types, including sawmills, woolen mills and flouring mills. Also commonplace were large and small distilleries.
The following article, “The Many Mills of Butler Township,” is a fascinating account excerpted from the 1882 Beers History of Montgomery County:
Butler Township seems to have had its full quote of mills, distilleries, and woolen factories, for along Stillwater and the branch firming the dividing line between Township 5 Range 3 and Township 3 Range 6,, and emptying into the river below Little York are numerous evidences of such enterprises. As early as the year 1807 or 1808, Abijah O’Neal and Joseph Cooper built a sawmill on the river in the vicinity of the gristmill at Little York. Several years thereafter, Andrew Waymire, having purchased O’Neal’s interest in the sawmill, and, later, that of Cooper, built a gristmill in the site of the present Oliver Heck mill. Waymire operated it for some years and it passed into the hands of Daniel and Andrew Yount and Benjamin Iddings, who erected and operated, in connection therewith, a distillery, and at about the same time, Robert Russel built a still-house nearly, which, years later, was converted by George Huffman into a tannery. The Younts and Iddints replaced the old gristmill with a new one, the work being done by Felty Waymire. The sawmill was then abandoned. The mill passed through various hands, and finally fell into the possession of Oliver Heck, who is now the miller at the old Waymire mill at Little York. John Heikes also built and carried on a distillery, by him operated for a number of years, then, carried on by Richard Sandham, who built there a large woolen factory. On this branch, south of the above named mill, Andrew Yount erected a gristmill, which was converted into a woolen factory by John Wenger. Sandham also built, above the Sandham factory, a gristmill, which is still in operation. Prior to this, a sawmill had been built on the same site by Andrew Waymire. Still further north, on the same branch, John Mast erected a sawmill, now the Coover Mill (This mill would later become known as the Kershner Mill on Kershner Road.) Above the latter was built a sawmill by Joseph Staley, which became the property of Henry Waymire. William Long was carrying on a sawmill and corn-cracker in the western part of the township, on Stillwater. On the other side of the township were also numerous mills. David Fox operated a sawmill in the southeast quarter of Section 22. Such mills were also built by John Mills, James O. Swallow and the Sunderlands, James and Richard. Copper stills were operated by John Hodlerman, James Miller & Son, David Fox, Samuel Maxwell and many others, as such stills were numerous and in almost constant use.
Rev. John Weaver Wenger, Rev. John Wenger Jr., and the Woolen Mill
Downstream perhaps half a mile from Sandham’s mills, a few hundred yards north from where the branch crosses Meeker Road, Andrew Yount built a grist mill sometime around 1820. By 1825, this mill and the land would pass into the hands of the Rev. John Weaver Wenger. (1778-1851), who came to Little York from Lebanon Co. PA in 1824 with his second wife Sarah Hahn (1787-1865) and nine children. The farm at that time encompassed all the land north of Meeker Road to Little York Road and east of the village of Little York to the Frederick Pike. John Sr. was a member of the Mennonites that became known as the Brethren By the River, or River Brethren. He and Samuel Herr founded the River Brethren Church in Montgomery County. The mill apparently also served as a dwelling and is referred to by Dora Class Brentlinger as being one of the first brick structures in the area. In 1831, the Wenger’s built a new home, or frame construction, which still stands on the property although no longer occupied.
In 1836, a division occurred within the church and John’s followers began to meet in his barn, calling themselves the Brethren in Christ, but were known locally as the Wengerites. When John died in 1851, his son John Junior (1807-1879) who had joined the ministry in 1840 assumed the leadership of the conservative faction. Yet another division occurred within the group in 1861, this time led by John Swank, whose followers then became known as the Swankites. Gradually the name Brethren in Christ became more common and by 1861 three groups in Ohio called themselves Brethren in Christ: the original River Brethren, the Wengerites and the Swankites. The River Brethren officially adopted the name in 1863 at the outbreak of the Civil War in order for drafted conscientious objectors to obtain legal recognition as members of an established religious organization opposed to war.
With the death of John Sr. in 1851 the original 200-acre farm was divided into two parts, with the western portion along Frederick Pike, on which stood the mill and the house, then being owned by son John Jr. At some undetermined date either the father or son had converted the gristmill into a woolen mill and John Jr. had learned the woolen trade. When he passed away in 1879, operation of the mill was carried on by his son, Levi, but a few years later it burned to the ground after a fire started in the dye room. When the Lamberts came to the property in 1899, the portion of the driveway in front of the house was part of a road that ran west of the house, at the bottom of the hill, beside the woolen mill. There still remained the race, which had led water to the twenty-four-foot wheel of the original gristmill.
“Three of John Wenger’s daughters married preachers. One (Lavina) was married to Issac (sic) Waymire, a U.B. minister, who lived where the Englewood Dam no is. This Anna was married to Solamon Good, of their own church. They lived in Englewood when I knew them.
Another (Elizabeth) was married to Ephraim Eby, of their church also. We lived as neighbors for a number of years and I grew up with their son John’s family. At one time they had an epidemic of typhoid fever and there were eight of them in bed very sick at one time. One twelve-year-old girl, Margurite, died. They had Dr. Hous and two resident nurses. They had washed the milk vessels in the barn and all who drank milk got sick.
(John’s son-in-law) Ephraim was paralyzed and bed ridden for a number of years. I used to visit him. His funeral was at Polk Grove, May 31, 1913 by Brother Detrick, Wengerite, and Howard Miller River Brethren. Text: “Blessed” Rev 14:13. I was a pallbearer and helped lower him into his grave.” Russell Lambert
Towns and Villages
Starting in 1817, Butler Township saw the development of several villages within its boundaries. According to Drury’s history of Dayton and Montgomery County, Little York was laid out by Andrew Waymire in 1817. It was prominent because of its proximity to the many mills in operation on Wenger’s branch. In the southern part of the township, Chambersburg was platted in 1830 on the Dayton and Troy turnpike and traction line. A post office was opened there in 1834. Located on the Dayton and Michigan railroad, Johnson’s Station and Tadmor served the surrounding area as shipping stations and centers for local trade. Vandalia, which was platted in 1838, was incorporated as a village in 1848, and as a city January 2, 1960.
The First Schools
Both the Polk Grove and Little York schools were built around 1812. Little York School, located on the east side of Meeker Road at the intersection with Little York Road, featured brick construction and several windows on each side, which was considered a luxury at the time. This school served the community’s children until 1879, when it was replaced by the Glasgow School at the southeast corner of Little York Road and Frederick Pike.
The Polk Grove School, located at the southeast corner of Frederick Pike and the National Road, was updated to brick in 1850.
The Chambersburg schools are not easily dated. Although the date of its origination is unknown, the Negro School, located on the north side of Little York Road a short distance west from Old Troy Pike was said to be incorporated into the Butler Township school system in 1875. It was closed by 1922.
The Chambersburg School, located on the west side of Old Troy Pike was the community’s sole school in 1882. Photos suggest it was in use around the same time as Polk Grove and Glasgow. While it is certain that an earlier school existed, no description can be found.
While the community is changing and growing, the people who live and work here make Butler Township the community it is today.
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