LITTLE BEAVER BRIDGE: Our Forgotten Village
In the warm months, it is hard to believe a village was once there. But in early winter when the vegetation is dead and snow has yet to come, one can see signs everywhere: foundations of buildings, remnants of the Sandy & Beaver Canal, stone walls that seemingly go nowhere, overgrown road beds, a bridge abutment, dam timbers in Little Beaver Creek, as well as objects of later vintage that are unsightly junk now but will be future archaeological treasures: beer bottles, tires, major appliances, a headless baby doll, several toilets, and a 1980 Chrysler. And yet in the early 19th century, Little Beaver Bridge, founded by Georgetown, PA resident John Bever, was the first settlement many people encountered when entering the state of Ohio by land. The little town, though never of great importance and now all but forgotten, was once referred to as “quite a lively place for business.”
Although John Bever, surveyor, explorer, and resident of Georgetown, PA since 1788, would eventually have business interests as far away as Canton and Wooster, in 1803 he cast much of his fortunes on a small area just across the Ohio River in the new state of Ohio. From his house on the bluff he could see the mouth of the Little Beaver as it entered the Ohio. A mile upstream from the river, just across the state line, was a small, flat plain bordering both banks of the creek. It was an ideal location for manufacturers; on the road from Georgetown to New Lisbon and the Ohio interior and situated next to a stream capable of running machinery year round. Furthermore, John Bever owned it. He knew that settlers would be pouring into the new state in great numbers and intended to profit from their needs.
He began in 1803 by building a grist mill on the west bank of the creek just below the St. Clair Township line in partnership with his friend and longtime associate, Thomas Moore. The new grist mill, operated by Moore, was one of the earliest merchant mills in the region and would serve the area for nearly sixty years. But John Bever was only just beginning.
In 1806, he entered into a partnership with Jacob Bowman of Brownsville, PA, and John Coulter, of Brooke County, VA (now WV) to erect a paper mill, the first in Ohio, on the east side of the creek, just upstream from the grist mill. Paper was a precious commodity in the west, often in such short supply that newspapers were forced to suspend publication for want of the material. The closest paper mill, the Redstone Mill near Brownsville, PA, was sixty miles away. Bever’s new enterprise would certainly be a welcome relief to John Wilson, printer of Steubenville’s first newspaper, the Western Herald, who wrote that he was “heartily tired” of apologizing for the newspaper’s infrequent publication due to lack of paper. Coulter, Bever, and Bowman’s Ohio Paper Mill began production in the summer of 1808. Residents of Steubenville got to read the news and printers from David Lepper in Lisbon, OH to Zadok Cramer in Pittsburgh benefited from a steady supply.
Bever was not finished. In 1809 he and Thomas Moore were authorized by the state of Ohio to erect a toll bridge across the Little Beaver near the grist mill on the “Georgetown Road.” The bridge, spanning 110 feet across the creek, was completed that Autumn. Soon after completion of the bridge, the settlement, previously referred to as both Bever’s or Moore’s Mills, became known as Little Beaver Bridge.
The settlement continued to grow and prosper. In 1815, a United States post office was established with Thomas Moore as the first postmaster. It was undoubtedly located in the store Moore had opened near the bridge. By the 1830s, Little Beaver Bridge could boast of having a tannery, blacksmith, cooperage, sawmill, tavern, and numerous dwelling houses, along with the original paper mill, grist mill, and store. The Sandy & Beaver Canal would also cross through the town.
Although the village driven by the waters of Little Beaver had prospered for some time, the rise of steam-powered manufacturers and the village’s small area undoubtedly assured its demise. The paper mill stopped production in the 1840s, a relic of the hand-made era. The canal, never a success, was defunct by the mid-1850s. The grist mill lasted at least into the 1860s, perhaps a few years longer. The post office was discontinued in 1863. Although people would continue to live in the area until the mid-20th century, the village of Little Beaver Bridge was no more.
This article first appeared in the E. Liverpool, OH., Review, Sunday, April 13, 2014.