Chester Loomis’ “Journey on Horseback through the Great West in 1825”
Transcribed and introduced by Paul Stroble
Here is chapter two of A Journey on Horseback through the Great West in 1825 by Chester A. Loomis, (1789-1873). The 27-page book was printed by Plaindealer Press of Bath, NY and is subtitled “Visiting Allegany Towns, Olean, Warren, Franklin, Pittsburg, New Lisbon, Elyria, Norfolk, Columbus, Zanesville, Vermillion, Kaskaskia, Vandalia, Sandusky, and many other places.” Loomis had business in Illinois so on June 1, 1825, he set out from Rushville, NY and recorded his observations as he rode through “the “great west,” that is, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. He returned home on August 24, eventually publishing his account in this now-scarce little volume.
Chapter two concerns Loomis’ first week in Ohio, where he finds assortments of timber, generally good soil quality, towns of varying industry, “low morals,” Indian relics, an under-construction Catholic church, and the wreckage left by a tornado. In the next chapter, Loomis visits Columbus, crosses Indiana, gets caught in a storm, meets Indians and white settlers, and reaches Edgar County, Illinois and the Vermillion River.
Ohio – Antient [sic] Mounds – Price of land – Zanesville – An Old Fort – An Aborignal [sic] Empire – A Cyclone.
On the 8th, of June I continued my journey from Franklin through the village of Mercer, in the county of Mercer, Pa., to Newcastle, on the Chenango river, and on the next day entered the state of Ohio, directing my course for the Big Beaver, which falls into the Ohio river below Pittsburgh. The country is moderately hilly, and is well watered; the timber principally oak, and a soil of light color, somewhat inclining to clay. Fine fields of grain are seen in this section, and more industry and enterprise is observable than I had seen after leaving the state of New York.
Near New Castle I observed several mounds, evidently artificial, but of very ancient formation. They are of a round, oval form–from two to three rods in diameter, and perhaps ten feet high.
These mounds are found near the center of extensive plains. They are composed of sand and a white colored kind of marble, bearing some resemblance to the organic remains of animals, particularly of bones in a state of decomposition.
The lands in the county of Columbina [sic], Ohio, are hilly and rolling. New Lisbon, its capital, has a population equal to that of Geneva, and is a place of some business. The hills in the neighborhood of the village are filled with stone, coal and iron ore is abundant. A furnace here makes good castings.
On the 10th inst. I reached Sandyhille, in Tuscarawas county. This place is situated on the Big Sandy River. Fifteen miles west of New Lisbon I left the hilly rolling country. Elevated plains extending many miles on a perfect level then succeed–and the face of the country generally is very different from any I had hitherto seen. The soil here is sandy, but certainly rich and productive. Price of unimproved land from $1.25, to $2.00, per acre.
Oak is the prevailing timber, but black walnut, maple and ash, are occasionally interspersed. This section of country has a scattered population. Little industry is observable. Some fine fields of corn are seen, and in many places the women are engaged in hoeing them.
New Philadelphia is the capital of Tuscarawas county, and has perhaps, 100 houses few of them elegant. It stands on a beautiful plan, near Tuscarawa river. Coal, limestone, iron ore, and freestone, are found near this place. This village, and indeed most of the villages in this state, exhibit but little enterprize [sic] or business. I have been particularly surprised in finding most of the adjacent lands unenclosed and remaining open commons. Here scarcely an enclosed field, or even garden is to be seen.
On the banks of the Big Sandy river I noticed several peech [sic] trees of most astonishing size nearly equal in magnitude to the largest oaks in Ontario county, New York.
On the 11th, I followed the course of the Big Sandy, repeatedly crossing it by fording as the water was low.
The general aspect of the country is pleasant. Its soil is rich and fertile. For the last 50 miles which I have traveled the country is level, and both the open plains and heavy timbered bottom lands, seem to be alluvial. The price of produce here is low; wheat 34 cents, corn 20 cents, and rye 20 cents per bushel. Immense quantities of unthreshed grain in stacks, are seen, and cash seems to be extremely scarce throughout this section of country.
From the 12th, to the 16th, of June I continued my journey through a fine country. The afternoon of the 12th, was spent at Zanesville, a large, rich and populous village on the east bank of the Muskingum river and directly opposite to the junction formed at the place of the Licking and Muskingum rivers.
Zanesville is a place of some business. It is a manufacturing town of considerable wealth. Some elegant and costly buildings, and a population of 6000 inhabitants.
About 70 or 80 run of mill stones are in operation here, and great quantities of flour are annually manufactured. Situated in the heart of one of the finest grain countries in the world, Zanesville has peculiar local advantages, and there is evidently more enterprise and industry among the inhabitants than at any other place nearer than Pittsburgh. Some coal and iron ore abound in the vicinity.
The state of morals is rather low. On Sunday numerous parties of gentlemen and ladies of the higher class of population were making excursions in the neighborhood, while the lower orders were collected in considerable numbers at the groceries and grog shops near the river.
A portion of the population of this place is Roman Catholic. At this time a large and splendid brick building is erecting for a chapel. Toward the expense of this “His Holiness, the Pope of Rome,” has contributed the sum of $20,000, thus showing that he is not unmindful of the interests of the “Holy Mother Church” even in the new, but growing countries of the west.
On the 13th, of June I passed through the villages of “Falls of Licking,” Irville, Neward and Granville, to Johnstown, in Licking county, Ohio The Licking river, up which I traveled most of the day, is a stream of clear water when compared with the other rivers of this country. It has most extensive black walnut bottoms, beautiful as to soil and situation.
Near Newark are the remains of numerous ancient works and fortifications. That of most remarkable form and mathematical regularity, which I saw is a mile from the village. Its form is that of a regular Octagon, all the sides being by actual measurement, exactly equal. The walls are more than three feet high. At one of the angles, was evidently the gate or opening, opposite in which, within, is the ruins of a raised work on each side and extending some rods within the form of a parallelogram–its walls higher and terminating within in two mounds which now have an elevation of ten feet and overlook the surrounding walls. These were once ports for sentinels, out of the reach of arrows from the outer walls. From the out angle or opening two parallel walls, ten rods apart, extend in a due north direction, about twenty or thirty rods to another ancient work of true circular form, with walls form three to five feet high. In the center of this circle is another mound of equal elevation with those already spoken of. Upon digging into one of these mounds I found first, great quantities of calcined bones, arrow heads of flint, a stone axe, pieces of broken earthen, resembling stoneware, coals, and ashes. I traced the walls of this circle and found but one gate or opening, and from the height at the embankments, this was evidently once a covered way for a considerable distance. It led to a fine spring of water. At regular distances along this covered way on which side were large and high platforms,–say six rods apart–unquestionably designed for defensive ports. Both the Octagon and circle contain, as I should judge, about an equal area–perhaps 20 acres each–now covered, even the walls with the greatest growth of forest trees,—black walnut, blue ash, maple and oak, which have evidently succeeded several former generations of timber, if the expression may be allowed, of equal magnitude and age. The Lucking river once flow ed near these works–its present channel is more than a mile distant.
Near Granville, in the center of an extensive plain or prairie, I saw a mound of true circular form of an elevation exceeding 20 feet. It is composed of a light colored marble, very different in color and appearance from the soil of the adjacent lands, which seem to be composed of a dark colored alluvial soil. This mound is undoubtedly an artificial work, but it cannot have been scooped up from the surrounding earth, as the contiguous land is entirely level to its base. Indeed through a great extent of country here, every mile exhibits evident traces of an immense ancient population. Who can say that this has not been the seat of some mighty empire? Who after seeing these wonderful memorials of former ages, will affirm that some mighty Greece or Rome of the Western world, has not flourished here? Who will declare that here the human mind did not, many thousands since burst the bands of barbarism and ignorance, and exert itself in the noblest efforts of genius or of patriotism?–in taming the ferocity of barbarism, in organizing society, and inventing and sustaining many valuable arts of civilized life–and probably many to which even the present generation of civilized men are strangers?
In the town of Hartford, I noticed a Beaver dam of greater size and strength than I have hitherto seen. It runs from bank to bank, across a small but I presume, durable stream, circular in its form, six rods in length, ten feet in width and three feet high, so constructed as to flow 50 or 60 acres. It is an ancient work, but the marsh or pond favored by it is said still to be the residence of beaver.
On the 14th of June, about six miles north of Johnstown I crossed the track or course of a tornado, which swept across this state in an easterly direction on the 18th ult. It seems to have passed with a more irrestible [sic] force than any wind I ever witnessed.
The vein or current at this place was probably more than w mile in width, prostrating in its course every thing with which it came in contact. Trees, houses, barns and fences we equally swept away. The thickest forests of this country appear to have formed an obstacle to its force. All was leveled, and I remarked, that the edges or outside lines of this tornado are well-defined and distinctly marked; every tree in the southern part of the course was prostrated to the north; every tree on its northern side was prostrated to the south, and in the center they seem to have been whirled in all directions but mostly to the east. Scarce a vestage [sic] of the village of Burlington, near this, can now be found—a village composed of about 40 hewed log buildings, all of which were razed to their foundations and their timbers promiscuously mingle with the prostrated trees of the surrounding forests. Several of the inhabitants were killed, and a general and total destruction of every species of prosperity within the course of the wind was experienced. This hurricane is said to have commended in the state of Indiana–to have swept across the state of Ohio, and to have spent itself among the mountains on the eastern side of the Allegany river, in the state of Pennsylvania–an extent of more than 400 miles.
On the 15th, of June I reached Bloomfield in the county of Knox. This is a new, and mostly an unsettled country here, but in point of fertility, is not surpassed by any part of this state of equal extent. The general face of the country is level. It is here, however, sufficiently rolling or undulating to give a brisk current to the streams. I[t i]s extremely well watered with durable springs of water. It has a deep rich and productive soil, slightly mixed with black sand, although it seems to be composed of vegetable decomposition, principally to the depth of two or three feet. A great proportion of the timber for many miles is black walnut, ash, maple, and oak. The woods are entangled with an immense growth of wild grape wine. The underbrush is principally paw-paw. Price of land here is from $1.25 to $2.00 per acre. This tract is about 20 or 30 miles distant from the route of the Ohio canal.