The History of Baltimore
Under the peaceful exterior of Baltimore lies a dying rivalry between two previously separated villages: Basil and Baltimore. The following history summarizes the formation of both villages as well as their animosity and eventual unification in 1946.
The first settlers in Baltimore were probably the Christian Gundy and Robert Wilson families, who arrived around 1800, but only stayed temporarily before moving on. In 1805, settlers from Switzerland arrived and named the area “Liberty”, referencing their hope for a new freedom from the hardship and limitations of the old country. Francis Bibler is commonly credited as the first permanent settler in the area.
In 1822, the proposed route for the Ohio Canal was surveyed and villages quickly began to emerge in the area. In 1833, two of these boom villages; New Market (founded 1824) and Rome, were combined to create Baltimore.
Although the founder of Basil, Jacob Goss had arrived in the area in 1807, lots weren’t surveyed for the new town until 1825. The first store in Basil was Gross’s store, built in 1809 at what is now 1301 W. Market Street.
It’s important to note that the settlers in Baltimore were from the German side of the border between Germany and Switzerland and the settlers in Basil were from the Swiss side of the same border. Their old rivalries in Europe therefore continued in the United States and two thriving towns with nearly identical businesses sprung up only a mile apart.
After their construction, the Ohio canals quickly assumed an integral role in the prosperity of the many towns that had been settled along its banks. Villages like Basil and Baltimore flourished; new businesses set up shop frequently, and the canal itself provided the volume of water necessary to power mills and plants.
Locks along the canal helped raise and lower boats through the differing elevations in the natural landscape. On the Ohio Canal, Locks No. 2 through 8 were located in the Baltimore-Basil region. Of these, lock No. 5 is considered to have been the most important lock in Fairfield County and was essential to helping Baltimore prosper. Boats would wait to be loaded or unloaded in the Baltimore Basin, the largest and busiest basin between Newark and Circleville.
Another important lock in the region is the Bibler Lock (No. 8), which as of 2018 became one of nine Ohio & Erie Canal locks approved for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
As railroads became the main form of transportation in the United States, the canal business began to wane, and both the Baltimore and Basil communities suffered. In 1878-1879, a railroad was surveyed for Columbus along the Refugee line to Millersport. This railroad would pass four miles north of the villages, however, destroying commerce in Baltimore and Basil.
Desperate to save their village, three Basil community members: Dr. W.F Mayne, Solomon Bader, and Jacob Campbell, approached the president of the proposed railroad, General Samuel Thomas, to offer him $10,000 and right-of-way through Liberty Township if he would run the line through Basil, and by extension, Baltimore. Thomas agreed, and the line was changed accordingly, with grading beginning in April 1879.
Due to a lack of funds, the railroad decided to only build one depot for both Basil and Baltimore. Historians have theorized that the depot was built on the east side of Basil, near the trestle that carried the line over Paw Paw Creek valley, because the original committee that approached the railroad company president had been from Basil.
There was deep resentment among the Baltimore citizens that the smaller Basil village had been given a depot and, shortly after the depot was built, it was deliberately burnt to the ground. Basil citizens found a lantern set on top of a tobacco box filled with tailor clippings under the burnt building and immediately accused Baltimore of setting the fire, although there was never any proof as to who did it.
In response to the fire, both Basil and Baltimore built a station. The Basil depot was the only brick, fireproofed depot on the Ohio Central Line. It was illuminated with gas lighting and never wired for electricity. It closed two years after the merger of the two villages on Saturday, July 10th, 1948.
The first movement to unify the conflicting Basil and Baltimore communities stemmed from a desire to merge the Basil and Baltimore schools. The first meeting to discuss the proposed united school took place on November 3rd, 1910 and by December 15th of the same year, a picture of the proposed school was displayed in the local newspaper alongside the potential savings, the price paid for the property, an issuance of bonds, and an election notice.
Although hopes were high that the proposal would pass because tuition would be free in a unified school, the final vote was 116 for and 163 against.
On November 9th, 1911, a state high school inspector allowed the Baltimore School to stay on the recognized high school list for one more year before they either had to:
1. Unite with Basil,
2. Build a new building,
3. Allow Liberty Township to take control of the district, or
4. Keep the current building as it was and lose the recognized high school status.
Although the groundwork had been laid for unification, it wasn’t until July 1st, 1915 that both the Basil and Baltimore school boards disbanded to created one Baltimore-Basil district. In addition to the factors mentioned above, the school boards also recognized that necessary modernization of school facilities in the upcoming years would require the closing of one-room schoolhouses and a unified school would need to pay fewer teachers.
By 1917, the two schools had officially combined and the first class to emerge from Liberty Union graduated on May 17th, 1917. Even so, animosity between the two villages remained intact. After a debate as to where the new school building should be built, it was decided that the building should split the boundary line and the superintendent, Joe Gordan, located his desk exactly between the Basil and Baltimore halves of the school so as not to favor either one of the communities.
In 1945, Basil Mayor Roy D. Orahood began a movement to combine the two villages. Although Baltimore Mayor Edward Siegwald was against the idea, the communities voted, and Basil was officially annexed to Baltimore on midnight, January 1st, 1946.
While the official documents did not mention a name change, the general population had assumed that there would be one. Some of the names suggested were: Fairfield, Fairmore, Blendon, Silmore, and Twinton. The name Baseball gained momentum and there are multiple newspaper articles proclaiming that it would bring tourism to the town.
The discussion frequently grew heated, more so than during the actual process of annexation, and finally an outside judge from Waverly, Ohio, Judge Earl D. Parker, was brought in to impartially decide the issue in the Fairfield County Common Pleas Court. The conflict drew national attention, but the final decision was that the name would remain Baltimore as the petition to rename the town Baseball had not received enough signatures. The name Basil still lives, however, in the names of various places around town such as Basil Western Road, Basil Park, and the Basil Joint Fire District.
Today, the conflict has all but been forgotten and, as the generations who lived through the merger slowly disappear, the tensions between the two villages fade into the past, making Baltimore and Basil one unified community.
A special thanks goes out to Leslee Anderson and George Stilwell. This brief history would not be possible without their invaluable research and writings.
Kaity Moore and Maxwell Dibble, 2018 Collections Interns
All photos edited by Katherine Kunkler, 2018 Graphic Designer