Waterford’s early tannery

Evidence of an old tannery in Waterford could suddenly appear in the form of sinkholes along Mill Street or even on nearby property. Will they be large enough to engulf a person or maybe a small automobile? Only time will tell.

For years what is now downtown Waterford was little more than a farm. Major Dean Tyler received a donation of 26 acres in what was labeled on the surveys as lot twenty-one. It passed through various owners: Tyler, Elijah Backus, Phineas Coburn, and Silas Durkee. For nearly twenty years only a few changes were made to lot twenty-one. Due to the Indian presence when the area was settled by whites in 1789, one of the early improvements was building Tyler’s Blockhouse. The roads (now Main Street) were surveyed and soon there was a ferry across the river. About 1794 Major Asa Coburn was laid to rest in a cemetery near Tyler’s Blockhouse, which, when reserved in a deed in 1807, was described as a square thirty by thirty feet. About 1812 Lt. Joseph Frye was laid to rest beside Coburn.

In 1814 Durkee’s administrators sold 20 acres of lot twenty-one to Col. Ichabod Nye (1762-1840) of Marietta. About 1817 he built a frame building that served as a store on the upper end of the lot near the Muskingum River. This was the first major commercial structure built on the lot. Later his son, Anselm Tupper Nye (1797-1881), took control of this store. Today Jukebox Pizza is located on the site. Looking back on all this, it is pretty obvious Waterford got off to a slow start. Other settlements did too; it all just took time.

On April 21, 1818, Ichabod and Minerva Nye sold one acre of lot 21 to Stiles R. Fox for $400, land which probably already included a tannery and tanyard. Nye had been a tanner by trade, so it is not surprising that he wanted one in Waterford. The northern line of the one acre tract was about two hundred and fifty feet south of the Nye Store. Later, the line was between the old Waterford Bank Building and Cody Dixon’s Store (formerly Dillehay’s). The large elm tree in Waterford was the boundary marker. What would become Mill Street was fifty feet to the north. The one acre lot covered at least another 100 yards to the south, ending on the south line of the old Osmer “Ozzie” and Agnes Vaughn house (now owned by Jack and Janet Lang). The southern portion of this land forms a hill along Main Street; the northern part, about the location of Cody Dixon’s Store Building, is flat and is the likely location of the tannery. This property was later included in Clarence C. Smith’s two acre tract which was shown on a map in an earlier article in this series on Sept. 14, 2013.

Tanneries require enormous amounts of water. Wolf Creek, which is a few feet lower in elevation and about two hundred feet away from the tannery, was of little use because the water had to be pumped up hill. The most practical supply of water came from a spring above the tannery, located on land that still belonged to Nye. Gravity supplied the water through crudely made wooden troughs from the spring to the tannery. Fox had guarantees that he would be able to get this important resource written into the deed. Included was the one acre “together with a privilege of water for a tanyard house … to be drawn from a spring or run on my reserved premises … the water to be drawn from the spring aforesaid through boards, logs or other conducters [sic] underground through my premises to the premises of said Stiles R. Fox.” (Vol. 18, pp. 413-14)

There is a run that forms on the southern side of Mill Street and flows into the river on the western side of the old Richard Duff house (now owned by Jack and Janet Lang). In early days this was called Blockhouse Run because of its close proximity to Tyler’s Blockhouse. Only the parts of this run near the river and the upper ends including the source are exposed today. The rest of it is a tunnel, large enough to walk in for several feet. One local resident said he had walked this tunnel for nearly one hundred feet until he was approximately under Mill Street. It is believed that the spring mentioned in the Fox deed is one of the main sources of water in this run. The crude wooden troughs that fed the tannery very likely are also tied into this stream. They run under or very close to Mill Street.

In 1828 the tannery was sold to Josiah M. Hart and Stephen Devol, Jr., for $450. (Vol. 20, pp. 457-58) In 1832 Hart bought out Devol for $400. (Vol. 22, p. 591) Hart sold the tannery to Barnabas Curtis on September 1, 1834, for $600. This deed also guarantees a right to water “to be drawn from a spring or run on Donation Lot No. 21 through boards[,] logs or other conductors.” (Vol. 24, p. 397) Curtis came to Waterford in 1831 and bought all of lot 15 (except one-half acre) and lot 33 (except three acres) from James Leget for $900. Margaret Lanning Pool now owns the house Curtis constructed near the center of 76 acre lot 33, although there was later an addition.

Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events in the Lower Muskingum Valley.