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New Deal Brings Peace to Rival Ohio Towns

Originally published in the

Cleveland Plain Dealer Magazine Section

July 29, 1934

Written by Lewis K. Cook

Basil and Baltimore, divided only by an imaginary line in Fairfield County, have warred over joint improvements but now they have to be satisfied with one water works furnished by the U.S.

Throughout time there have been rival towns as well as rival rulers, and their rivalries have made history and changed geography. Athens and Sparta warred. Rome bled herself white to conquer Carthage. Venice and Genoa fought for trade and their sailors discovered new markets. New York and Philadelphia were trade and political rivals. Cleveland and Ohio City glared at each other across the Cuyahoga River.

And since 1825 Basil and Baltimore, in Fairfield County, have been neighbors and rivals.

Public Square Basil, Ohio

Basil Public Square

On June 30 PWA headquarters in Washington made an announcement that recalls the former feud between the villages. The government agency announced a mutual waterworks system, an arrangement PWA officials forced the two towns to accept by refusing to make grants for separate systems. Last fall each village had voted a bond issue under the provisions of the PWA for a waterworks, each blaming the other for the inability to join in a single plant.

Main St. Baltimore, OH

Main Street in Baltimore

The spirit of rivalry sprang up during the land boom following the survey of the Ohio Canal. The preliminary survey in 1823 started a speculation in town lots that in the rosy promises of the promoters was the equal of anything Florida or California ever conceived. From Cleveland and Ohio City to Portsmouth the line of the survey was alive with surveyors laying out town sites, while the promoters ran about exercising their imaginations and making vague but beautiful promises.

Henry Hildebrand, a Virginian, laid out a town site on the south bank of the canal in 1824 and called it New Market. About the same time a small rival survey was made north of the canal and named Rome. These villages subsequently merged and selected the name Baltimore.

A half mile down the canal Jacob Goss hired Jonathan Flattery in March 1825, to survey a village site. Then he called his neighbors together on the platted village square to choose a name for the future city. Sebastian Leonard suggested Basel and Squire Heistand proposed Geneva. A lively discussion followed in which sentiment was about equally divided.

Henry Leonard, destined to be known from New York to Kansas as ‘The Fisherman of Basil’, then a boy of 13, was returning home from school. His father called him to tear a sheet from his copy book and write ballots with the names Basel and Geneva on them. The vote was taken and it turned out to be a tie, 6 to 6. Just then John Goss, brother-in-law of Leonard came up the hill and Leonard called to him: “Vote Basel, John. Vote Basel.” The next vote was Basel 7 Geneva 6. And Basel, misspelled Basil by the thirteen-year-old boy, the village was named.

Canal boat

Canal boat near Buckeye Lake

The first canal boat came through in October, 1831. Baltimore celebrated by firing cannon from the hill above the canal basin and holding a reception for the boatmen.

In the next twenty years development was rapid. The basin made Baltimore a center of trade and the village grew so quickly that it was incorporated in 1833. Five warehouses, a mill, and several stores served the canal trade. Basil, with poorer canal facilities, had two warehouses, a mill and a couple of stores. Baltimore was dominant.

Most of the people of Basil were German-speaking Swiss or Pennsylvania Dutch, while the residents of Baltimore were Virginians or canal boat men. So to trade rivalry was added the misunderstanding of language differences.

There was a continual warring between the villages. Parents in Basil warned their daughters against “dose vild schports” from Baltimore, and threatened to disown their girls if they had anything to do with them. Baltimore residents, on the other hand, belittled the “dumb Dutch” and adjured their daughters to scorn them. Baltimore, as the larger shipping point, attracted more attention than Basil.

Early photo of Baltimore

According to one tradition Baltimore’s importance was such as to attract Andrew Jackson there for a political speech. His acceptance of the invitation chagrined Basil but delighted Baltimore whose citizens made great preparations, even electing each other to high sounding offices, real or imaginary, by which they planned to impress Old Hickory.

On the great day the honored speaker was escorted to the old Baptist Church, the various presidents of this and secretaries of that were duly introduced, and altogether it proved a very satisfactory event. That is until a Basil resident ruined the display and impressiveness by thrusting his head in the door and shouting “Low bridge!” The officers were mostly of canal experience - and ducked their heads, thus proving their lowly calling.

But Baltimore had the post office and until 1857 Basil had to suffer the humiliation of asking for its mail at its rival’s office. As a convenience to his store customers Henry Leonard sent a boy for the thrice weekly mail to Baltimore. Occasionally he was “rocked” back to Basil by the Baltimore boys. To save the time of a man and to prevent fights Leonard thought of training a large dog to carry the mail in small saddlebags. But this plan was abandoned when the dog dived into the canal with the mail to chase a rabbit.

Post Office in Baltimore

Basil scored with its band, organized shortly after the Civil War. For more than 80 years Basil has never been without an organized band and during part of this time it played at such places as Cedar Point, the Ohio State Fair, Gallipolis celebration, and for occasions about Buckeye Lake.

Basil Band

Tit for tat, Basil boys stoned Baltimore boys, and Baltimore youngsters threw rocks at Basil youths if either dared cross the town limits. The old covered bridge at the canal was the deadline, and even grown men were known to have fought there for no reason other than pride of village.

And then came the railroad. The canal had been declining for some years as the railroads expanded. Baltimore and Basil declined with the canal trade. The nearest railroad was the high sounding Atlantic & Lake Erie that ran through Millersport, Pleasantville, Rushville and Bremen.

In 1878-79 a railroad was surveyed from Columbus east to Millersport. A committee consisting of Dr. W. F. Mayne, B. M. Pugh, and Solomon Bader called on Gen. Samuel Thomas, promoter of the proposed line, and offered him $10,000 and a right of way if he would run the railroad through Basil and Baltimore to join the A & L. E. at Bush’s Corners, now Thurston.

Of course, the promoter changed the line. Grading was started in April 1879, and the first train passed through the villages on January 1, 1880. The new railroad was low on funds so built only one depot for both towns, placing it on the east side of Basil.

Men building the railroad through Baltimore and Basil

Workers building the railroad through Baltimore and Basil

This may have been good business but it was poor diplomacy. Baltimore resented the fact that it had no depot, and Basil was grieved that the depot was “over on Oak Alley” rather than on Main Street. Basil taunted Baltimore, the larger village, with its depot-less condition.

Joel Hansberger, a leading citizen of Baltimore, offered to bet Dr. Mayne, one of Basil’s leaders, that Baltimore would have a depot within two months, and shortly after that the depot burned to the ground in the night under suspicious circumstances.

Immediately the towns were up in arms. Dr. Mayne openly accused Hansberger of setting the fire. The villagers’ arguments led to fights and feelings ran high. Basil collected a subscription and built a brick depot openly challenging Baltimore to burn THAT. The railroad refused to pay anything for the depot so Basil paid for it in full.

Basil Depot

Basil Depot

Baltimore likewise built a depot and gave it to the railroad, so now the road got two depots free.

But the rivalry continued unabated. Dr. Mayne brought accusations before the grand jury, and though he could easily prove the fire had been set he could not prove Hansberger was the incendiary. The grand jury refused to indict. A tobacco box of tailor’s clippings in which a lantern had been set was found under the burned depot but nobody was able to trace the clippings or establish guilt.

Baltimore celebrated the decision. Heavy anvils were loaded with powder and fired repeatedly, making a clamor that was heard for miles.

Baltimore Depot

Baltimore Depot

The development of the villages now centered about the railroad. Mills were built, some of them from the dismantled canal warehouses, stockyards were built, and new businesses developed. If one village initiated a tannery the other started a foundry. Basil built a new school house in 1881. Baltimore matched it in 1883.

In 1909 the Fairfield Paper Co. was organized in Baltimore, took over the defunct strawboard factory, built a paper mill and, later, a box factory. This business has grown until today some 400 people are employed. Working together in the same factory tended to quiet the feud for there were fewer rock fights and even some cases of intermarriage were reported.

Paper Mill 1906

View of the paper mill and railroad, 1906

But when the school buildings were condemned by the state and a union school was suggested the old animosity sprang to life again. Neither village would accept a school situated within the borders of the other village, and inasmuch as the two corporation limits met there was no neutral soil left for the building.

All proposals failed until the two schools were united in single organization known as Liberty Union School District. Even so, it was only by having Basil throw out some territory for Baltimore to annex, in order that the common corporation line would run through the middle of the building, that the citizens of the two towns agreed to a common school.

On May 17, 1917, the graduation exercises of the first united class were held in a tent on the proposed school site. Superintendent Joseph Gordon said he felt that if the school were built exactly across the line, with the superintendent's office in the middle of the building, his desk and chair exactly in the center of the office, and his hair carefully parted in the middle, peace should reign.

First Liberty Union Class of 1917

First Liberty Union Graduating Class, 1917

(The author of this article, Lewis Cook, was a member of this class)

Peace has reigned in the united school and very successful work has been done. But a few years ago, when additional room was needed and an annex to the building planned, the old feeling again flared up. Baltimore would not allow the addition to be built on Basil’s side, and vice versa. So no addition was built.

From census to census the two villages have alternately triumphed over each other. In 1920 Basil led, 606 to Baltimore’s 566. By 1930 Baltimore had grown somewhat and the enumerator counted 720, while in Basil he found only 716. But the next day A. E. Hammon and his wife and three sons moved into Basil from Corning. Immediately appeals were made by Basil residents for a recount but the census authorities felt that a recount was not needed. So Baltimore scored.

Last fall each village applied for a PWA water works project. The state PWA officials suggested a common plant but the village officials could not agree. Baltimore wanted soft water, Basil had voted for natural water. And so it proved a stalemate until the state board flatly declared it would not recommend separate plants.

So they are uniting on one plant and peace reigns for the present.

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