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This and That - 200 Years at the Fort - Part II PDF Print E-mail
Monday, August 13, 2012 9:13 AM

Life in small town America often revolved around church and school. This was true in Fort Jennings. In the beginning the pioneers built a log cabin which served as a church for both Lutherans and Catholics on Sunday. During the week it was the school house for all the kids. Two congregations prospered for many years, until St. John’s Lutheran merged with Continental and some parishioners went to Delphos. There have been other faiths represented in the township in the past. There is a Baptist congregation in Rushmore now.
Schools changed from several one room schoolhouses into the magnificent Jennings Local Schools Campus, which was built on Musketeer Drive. (The history of the churches and schools are given in other chapters of this history.)

Most of the early settlers were farmers so they started with building little cabins and clearing the land.  The trees had to be cut down first, and then they farmed around the stumps. The hoe was their basic implement and corn was their chief crop.

Boehmer had been a teacher in the old country. Since there was no employment to be found in this area, he returned to Cincinnati, then to Stallowtown (Minster). In 1837 he married Mary Wellmann, daughter of J. H. Wellmann. In 1838 the new couple returned to Fort Jennings, where “H. J.” built a supply store on the west side of the river, on high ground. There he traded with the Indians and the settlers. Boehmer also built a saw mill and a grist mill along the Auglaize River, near where the Memorial Hall now stands.  Later he taught school in Fort Jennings.

 

The building which houses “The Fort” is among the oldest in town.  It was built by the Raabe family, and served as a grocery and merchantile store. Louis Dickman moved the restaurant and bar from the little frame building next door into that stately brick building in 1946. Kings Hall was just a block down the street at the corner of Rt. 190 and Rt. 189. Alex Heinl was among the first to establish a restaurant, bar and grocery in that building. These establishments served as the center of social life for many years.  They both survived the prohibition years from 1919-34. As Howard Raabe said in his memoirs: “Heinl’s kept the restaurant but ceased being a bar.” Dickman’s never did cease being a bar. Both bars had several owners through the years. The “Knotty Pine” (Kings Hall) was torn down in 1999 to make way for the bank parking lot. As time went by The Outpost, north on Rt. 190 became a popular restaurant and bar. These establishments were the places to go to meet your friends, especially after ball games.  The Fort and the Outpost continue to serve the area residents.

The Memorial Hall was built in 1916 as a memorial to Col. Jennings, the War of 1812 and all the veterans who have since followed to serve their country. Many weddings and parties were held there until the American Legion built their fine building north of town.
The Memorial Hall also housed the Fort Jennings Branch of the Putnam County Library for a short time. It sat empty for several years until its rebirth in 2011. During the months that followed many volunteers restored or renovated the hall to be ready for the Bicentennial. The hall also houses a military museum.

The grand opening of the Fort Jennings Branch of the Putnam County Library was held 9 February 1986, with Mayor Regina Schimmoeller performing the ribbon cutting. The new library branch was located in the reception room of the Memorial Hall. When the Putnam County District Library opened in 1924, Mrs. B. A. Miehls told the library officials that it was doubtful that Fort Jennings residents would use the County Library because of the poor roads and the distance between Fort Jennings and Ottawa.  She said they would be more inclined to use the Delphos Library.

Prior to the opening of the branch library, the county established various substations in 1942. The district also served the area with the bookmobile.

The branch library was the idea of Mike and Barb Phillips, members of the Fort Jennings Jaycees. In July 1985 Phillips, along with Mayor Regina Schimmoeller approached the Jennings township trustees about a branch library in town. The room at the Memorial Hall was painted and updated. The trustees and the village council were responsible for paying the utilities. Donations were received from various organizations, including the Sesquicentennial Committee and the Lions Club. Shelving was provided by the county library. The display case with various artifacts from Fort Jennings past was located in the library. Doris Miehls served as the branch librarian, with Doris Neidert as her assistant. The library held weekly story hours and a summer reading program. When the new music room in the old high school was vacated, the library was moved to that location.

The Putnam County Library was flooded in 2007. The local history librarian and others managed to save 90 percent of the genealogical and local history department records and books.  Ruth Wilhelm even went in on a row boat to help with the moving process. She was given permission by the Fort Jennings High School to move the local history department to the Fort Jennings Branch, where it remained until the opening of the new Putnam County Library in the spring of 2011.

The Auglaize River always played an important role in the life of the town. The confluence of the Jennings Creek with the Auglaize is just a short distance west of town. In pioneer days it served as a means of transportation. As stone was needed for roads, several stone quarries popped up along these streams. Many of these served as swimmin’ holes. The main swimmin’ hole was in the Auglaize next to King’s Hall. The younger set often went skinny dippin’ there, as did others who were not so young….when they could get away with it.  Visitors can be found fishing in the Auglaize and some residents have good luck turtle hunting in the river.

It was always a big day in town when the Great Canoe Race was held on the Auglaize. The Jaycees first sponsored this event in 1977. It ran for several years. A newspaper account in 1985 reported over 100 entrants.  Raft Races were often part of the entertainment and competition.

Farmers living along the Auglaize River and the Jennings Creek grew accustomed to high water from seasonal rains washing out their crops. Most of the time the corn and beans have survived. The 1830 flood was said to be a big one. Other major floods occurred in 1834, 1913, 1950, 1959, 2007, 2008 and 2011.

The notorious 1913 flood covered much of Ohio. Half of Delphos was under water. Harold Krietemeyer recalls his father telling that the water from the Auglaize reached as far a Joe Menke’s place on Road R. Other old timers told stories of the waters of the Ottawa River and the Auglaize meeting somewhere in the area of Road R and Rd 19.

The Wieging Boys told of Billie Boehmer and Ike Fosnaught taking a boat ride on the swollen Auglaize in 1913. Ike told Billie that he never had a boat ride. Billie was good with a row boat and told Ike to get in. First thing — Ike’s hat blew off and he tried to get it. They got into the main current and they hadto cross the river with the current and wound up the southeast side at Bill Suever’s house. Suever said they had better stay there until the river dropped some. The two young men stayed at Suever’s for 3 days, and then decided to head home. With that Suever phoned Heinl’s Bar and told them the boat was coming home. Alex Heinl ran across the street to the shoe shop to get Franz Geier and he got the town band together and went to the river. Then Rabbit Burkmeyer and Speedy Bertling stepped in for Paul Revere and ran down the street opening the doors and shouting “the boat is coming in.” Rudy & Gilbert Wieging were in the hardware store with their dad. George Brenner said “let’s go” and locked up.  Everyone in town locked up and headed for the river. Gilbert said he remembers how quiet everything was then they saw the American flag on the front of the boat coming through the trees. The band started playing and some men were shooting their guns, giving them a gun salute. When the guys got out of the boat, Ike held up the flag and they paraded down the street to Raabe’s store and got two bread boxes to stand on and give their speech. Then they moved into Heinl’s and Burkie’s. The Wieging boys were too young to go along to the bar.

The old high iron bridges across the Auglaize have gone the way of the covered bridges. Hendricks Bridge on Rt 224 was the first to go. Next was the bridge on Rt. 189 at the edge of town. This was not planned. Many will remember when a young man hit this bridge with his brand new 1961 black Chevrolet Impala. The bridge on Road U 20 was torn down in 1986 to make way for heavier traffic and wider farm machinery. The double span “Muggs Kohls Bridge” on Road R was replaced in 1995. At one time Hedrick’s Bridge and the bridge on 189 were covered bridges.

Fort Jennings has not been subject to too many high destructive winds. The 1948 tornado which took the Landeck Church down did do a little damage in the community. It was said to have blown a little 5 year old girl down Water Street. Then on 28 August 2006 a tornado struck north of town on Rt 634. It took down Bob Miehls’ barn, and damaged Bruce VonSosson’s machine shed. The brick home of Dan and Sandy VonSosson suffered some damage, including pulling a drapery right through a wall, next to the front window. It carried a lawn chair from Cheryl McKee’s home, driving it into the barn siding at Bruce VonSosson’s. Another tornado hit the southern portion of the township in 2001, taking down a building for Tom Knippen and breaking off a string of 6 subtransmission poles along Road U 20. Damaging winds hit again in the fall of 2010, taking the roof off The Fort. The restaurant and bar was closed for several weeks due to water damage from the heavy rains that followed. April of 2011 was a windy month for most of the United States. Many residents were awakened around midnight one night with a Code Red Call from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. The storm caused moderate damage north of town. Several residents reported that terrible “freight train” sound pass over their homes. It took a barn down on Road 20. The “Big Storm” hit most of Ohio on June 29, 2012. The winds were hurricane force.  Jack Berelsman watched his boat get picked up off the pond and go flying by the barn.

Many residents remember the “big snows”.  The 1945 (or 46) snow storm was one to remember because there was “no school” at Fort Jennings, and much of Putnam County for the whole month of January. It was “wonderful” and didn’t have to be made up like the calamity days do in this day and age. There were blizzards in 1977 and 1978.  The Blizzard of 1978 was so bad; it is covered in a special section of this history.

The people of Fort Jennings gave a royal welcome to descendents of Col. William Jennings on 26 April 2001. They were honored by a visit from Mr. and Mrs. William Williamson from Madison, Wisconsin. Williamson is one of the General’s (or Lt. Col. Jennings) great-great-great grandsons. He is the son of John Jennings, son of the general. Williamson and his cousin Doug Lusher, of Missouri have researched the general’s life, discovering the town of Fort Jennings. They found it was 30 miles north of St. Marys. A visit to Fort Jennings was planned. Mayor Larry Streets put Regina Schimmoeller in charge of the program of the day. The main program was held at the high school, with Larry Schimmoeller as master of ceremonies. Frank Sukkup also spoke. This was followed by a dinner at the “Old Fort.” Williamson presented the village with a portrait of Col. Jennings.  William and Daisy Williamson then visited the monument, honoring their ancestor.  The granite monument was dedicated in 1976 on a plot of ground near the site of the old fort, which was donated by Wendell McKee.  The committee in charge of the monument was: Clarence Specht, Paul Menke Elwood “Pats” Broecker and Alfred “Jack” Schimmoeller.  Mother Nature provided beautiful weather for the days festivities.

One of the biggest projects and accomplishments of the community took place in the 1970’s, when the village converted the “town dump” into a beautiful community park along the Auglaize River. The history of the park is covered in another chapter of this book.
Another major project for the village was the big sewer project. The initial sewer question came up with the village in 1974, when the EPA suggested Fort Jennings be included with the Ottoville project. The village council rejected the plans because of lack of money. In 1992 the EPA sent a letter to the village that a sewer system was to be built.  The land for the lagoon was purchased in 1994 and the sewer project was accomplished in 1977-98.  Dave Gasser of Fort Jennings Construction had sub contracted under Zia Kam of Van Wert to do the job which began in the spring of 1997 and became operational in March, 1998. The sewer started at the lift station near the fire station on Water Street.  Dave had to dig 23 feet deep through 6 feet of solid rock for the first phase, which continued down Fourth Street.  Rock was a problem all the way to Main Street.  The main line is in rock 21 feet deep.  Gasser had all the main lines in by 20 December 1997. The last hook-up at homes was in February of 1998.  Gasser noted that the lowest man hole cover is on Champion Drive, near Rt. 634. The highest elevation for a man hole cover is behind Regina Boehner’s and John Rellinger’s place on Railroad Street. The total cost was $2.18 million. Various grants paid for 75 percent of the project and connections.
Fort Jennings is known for some unique activities, which have turned into big events. The Lawn Mower Races started in the field behind several homes on Fourth Street.  The event became too large for that location so the races were moved to the Community Park. This event includes participants for other towns as well as the local racers.  Spectators have been known to come from as far away as Dayton and Columbus.
The town has changed a little over the years. A former resident might come into town looking for the school and have to be directed to its new location. They might be surprised to see the home of the American Legion. Naturally there’s the park and the new Catholic Church. What they will not find is a gas station. There used to be two in town.
One special event of the 1940’s was the Farm Implement (and anything else) Sale in the triangle which adjoined Nipkin Calvelage’s gas station on April Fool’s Day each year.  This brought in buyers and sellers from everywhere.  It was a really big deal.  Some even managed to skip school for the event.  Naturally, Jackie Calvelage Trenkamp was among those who skipped school.  She remembers that Tom Wieging ran the concession stand, where the kids sold hot dogs and candy bars.
Many town happenings will remain un-mentioned but here are some worthy of mention: Nathan Beining designed the official Fort Jennings flag. His design was the winner in a school contest. Natural gas was supplied to the village residents in 2003. Ethel Vaughn became Police Chief 4 April 1995. She had been a deputy for 1 1/2 years before her appointment. The first new police car for the village was delivered April 1995.  Until that time the village was buying used cars. — the first village snow plow was purchased 5 January 1993. In December 1973, the village Christmas decorations consisted of lighting 2 trees in front of the Memorial Hall and Council approved lighting them from 6 PM until 10 PM. Now the village looks very festive during the Christmas season, with candles of colored lights all the way down Water Street. The first Village maintenance building by the IGA was purchased in 1977 at a cost of $6,150. Electricity was installed in the building in 1979. The second building was purchased during the sewer project in 1996 from John Miller and currently houses the Maintenance Dept. and the Police Station. A Tree Commission was formed in 1993 with Carl Metzger as Chairman. The first large scale tree project was 7 June 1994 and continues even today. The house numbering scheme for the village was completed by the Lions Club in November of 1972. A year after, council made it mandatory that each resident post their house number. The Recreation Club House was not owned by the village when it was built but in 2002 the club house was deeded over to the village at no cost. The Recreation Club is no longer in existence. The building has been the site of many parties and family reunions.

Another big local event is the Burn Out, which started in July of 2001. It originally began with a group of guys in the Village meeting on a Saturday night to cruise the village and “burn out” their classic cars in front of the church. Larry Streets was mayor at that time. He and Police Chief Ethel Vaughn decided to start the Burn Out officially to raise money for Fort Jennings Police Activities being done in the school system. The event was soon incorporated into the Motor Madness Weekend, with the Lawn Mower Races and the Car Show on Water Street.
Sports have always played an important role in Putnam County communities and in the area. Most sports are part of the school program but not all. Probably the biggest sports event for the village was when the High School Boys Basketball team won the State Championship in 2000. Some sports which are not part of the school program are CYO Basketball, Little League Baseball, Girls Softball, Acme Baseball and the SAY Soccer Program. The soccer program began in 1983. This program grew and grew to include almost all school age children. Each child was guaranteed to play at least 2 quarters in each contest. Everyone was important. Many teams of all age groups took part in the State SAY tournaments. This called for a big family week-end at one of the motels near Dayton or Cincinnati. Many can remember playing “hotel tag” with a ball in the Holiday Inn in Dayton. The teams of all ages returned home with State Championships and were met outside of town by the fire truck to help them celebrate by driving through the streets of town.
The village of Fort Jennings celebrated its sesquicentennial with a huge parade in 1962. The Brothers of the Brush was one of the popular events that year. The town celebrated the Septquicentennial in 1987, with another parade. A king and queen reigned at each celebration. Also reigning in 1987 were Senior Citizen Kings and Queens.  They were Mrs. and Mrs. Ed Rekart and Mr. and Mrs. Ferd Lucke. Both couples were married more than 60 years.

The Fort Jennings Post Office was established in January of 1843 with Joseph Boehmer as the first postmaster. The Fort Jennings post office serves the northwest corner of Allen County, a large portion of Putnam County and the eastern part of Van Wert County. Harold Krietemeyer, who served several years as a rural mail carrier, stated that the reason Fort Jennings has a rural route but Ottoville and Kalida do not is because a railroad went through Fort Jennings. Back in the old days the mail arrived by train.

The earliest known route through western Ohio was the Auglaize River and the foot path along the west bank of the river. The trail ran from Defiance in Northwest Ohio to Fort Jennings, Fort Amanda and other points south. General Anthony Wayne and Lt. Col. William Jennings traveled this route.

On this road in 1829, the first mail was carried on horseback once a week between Piqua and Defiance. This road became known as the Defiance Trail. In Putnam County it is known as Road 23-T, south of Fort Jennings and Road 22-K, north of St. Rt. 224.

The Intersection of St. Rt. 190 and St. Rt. 189 is on Water Street in the heart of the village of Fort Jennings. Route 634 also comes into town on the east side, where it intersects with 190. Even with the criss-crossing of these highways Fort Jennings can still boast of being a town without a traffic light.

Putnam County designed their road numbering system to make it simpler to find your way across the county. Road R cuts across the county from East to West and Road 19 stretches across the county from North to South. The letters of the alphabet start on the north side of the county with lower numbered roads start on the East Side of the County.  The Miami – Erie Canal, on the north side of the county afforded early pioneers a means of transportation. Then came the railroads but some of them have disappeared.  Most of the roads in Jennings Township have stayed the same except for the name.  Paradise Road is now Road T-23 (it comes off of 23-T).  Then things changed in 1978 when work began on the new four lane Rt. 30. It cut across the southern part of Jennings Township, taking much farm land and two homes that had to be moved. Big time traffic came to Jennings Township but it had to be accessed from Allen or Van Wert Counties. It crossed over St. Rt. 190 and Road U-20.  Several large ponds were created as a result. Fishing has become a favorite sport of many in the one known as Klima’s Pond or Allemeir’s Pond.

There are two cemeteries still active in Jennings Township. They are Mount Calvary and St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, which are both located on St. Rt. 190 in or near Fort Jennings. The old Raabe Cemetery is on Road 20-P, one fourth mile north of Rt. 189. The Meyers Cemetery is located on a farm, near the river on Road T-23. The bodies of the United Brethren Cemetery were moved to other cemeteries in 1933. There was also a cemetery near where the Memorial Hall now stands, and the stones were moved to other cemeteries. This information was provided by the Putnam County Cemeteries, Jennings Township.
Seniors at FJHS have traditionally received an assignment to do a memory book. These prove to be very interesting.
One young lady wrote the following paragraph about her hometown. “One of my favorite things about Fort Jennings is the size of the school. You would never be able to go to a big city school and have all the students know you by name and will talk to you; and the teachers are always willing to help you, no matter what. Another thing I love is how everyone in town knows almost everyone else, and everyone is willing to help out other families.”  This says a lot for Fort Jennings. May it always stay that way.

There are many more stories that could be told about the community of Fort Jennings, including Jennings Township and part of Jackson Township but time and space does not permit.  For more information please consult Historical Fort Jennings, 1812 – 1976, the two recent St. Joseph’s Church  Histories, the Century of Progress (Jennings Local School District), the County Histories, the 1948 St. Joseph Church History, the Putnam County Centennial Histories (1934 and 1973) and the recently published Bicentennial History 1812-2012. This bicentennial history has had several authors and has been divided into several chapters so more detail can be given to certain areas of interest. Please excuse us for overlapping but that is better than letting something out.

Special segments of this history will follow in later chapters. They include: churches, schools, farming, railroad, businesses, park, sports, police and fire departments, local government, veterans, organizations and reminiscences.
We must remember to pay tribute to the local historians who came before us and have gone to their great reward. The following are probably still telling stories up in Heaven: Thanks to: Alfred “Jack” Schimmoeller, Imogene Elwer, Marie Uhrich, Elmer VonLehmden and Verena Brinkman. Thanks to H. J. Boehmer for the Boehmer Letters, which describe the trip across the ocean and their trips through the wilderness. Copies are available and portions of them are included in the 1976 Fort Jennings History. There is an old William Boehmer “notebook” floating around out there somewhere. Does anyone know where it is?

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:41 PM
 

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