Meriwether Lewis, descending the Ohio River to meet William Clark before heading west to discovery, fame, and eventual suicide, couldn’t quit writing of the multitude of squirrels. His journal, begun upon leaving Pittsburgh in early September 1803 mentioned them daily: “Observed a number of squirrels swimming the Ohio,” “the squirrels still continue to cross the river,” “saw and caught, by means of my dog, several squirrels, attempting to swim the river.” Lewis’s observations were only one of many accounts of a peculiar event quite common in the early 19th century: squirrel migrations.Keep Reading
Despite the common vision of Ichabod Crane rushing across a covered bridge just before being beaned by a pumpkin, the first covered bridge in the United States was not erected until 1805, when Ichabod was already mouldering in his fictional grave. Covering a wooden bridge offered several benefits, most importantly in extending the life of the structure by protecting its timbers, and soon people in the east were running up and down stream banks saying, “I want a roof on my bridge.” In the west, however, there were few bridges to cover and few options for crossing any stream. You could fly, which would have required a 100-year wait; you could take a boat if one was available; you could cross at a ford, which was wet; or you could swim, which was wetter. If the stream was too high, as was often the case in the spring and after a heavy rain, you waited, drank corn whiskey, killed fleas and discussed the Jefferson administration until the water subsided.
In 1808, Georgetown, Pennsylvania resident John Bever and his friend, Thomas Moore, owned a large grist mill on the western bank of Little Beaver Creek, a mile north of the mouth. At that time, the Georgetown-New Lisbon Road, as it was locally known, ran through Georgetown, crossed the Ohio River on a ferry, and continued into the interior of the new state of Ohio, crossing the Little Beaver near Bever and Moore’s gristmill. That the road crossed the Little Beaver was more theory than fact; it may have been while Bever and Moore stood on the east bank and looked at their mill on the west bank that they decided to build a bridge. In addition to allowing Bever and his friend to remain dry, a bridge crossing the stream would be a “great facility for emigrants and travellers [sic] passing into the state of Ohio…,” all of whom would, hopefully, have to pay a fee.1 And so it was that in February 1809, Bever and Moore received permission from the state of Ohio to erect a toll bridge over Little Beaver Creek at their own expense. Later that year Irishman Fortesque Cuming had this to say: “Over this creek [Little Beaver] about a mile from its mouth, a new toll bridge was erected in the summer and fall of 1809, on the road leading from Washington county [PA] to New Lisbon…”2 Less than five years after the first covered bridge in the United States, Bever and Moore had built the first one in Ohio.
Contemporary descriptions of the structure are few. Cramer’s Navigator describes it as a “handsome arched bridge, substantially made and well covered in.” Since the span was over 120 feet, it is likely the bridge was built using the Burr Truss, patented in 1806 by Theodore Burr.3 This new design made spans of over a hundred feet attainable by the use of a large arch on each side of the structure and may also be the source of the term “arched bridge” used by Cramer, as the arch would have been readily visible from inside the bridge.
The best description of the bridge comes from a Columbiana County Common Pleas Court case filed in 1811, Crawford, Knight, Thomas, and Konkle vs. the Little Beaver Bridge Company, in which the following description of the proposed completion of the bridge is given:
“…studding on each side of the bridge, to be two and one-half feet from center to center of each stud, and furnish all-weather boarding to be eight inches wide, face six inches to the weather and lap two inches, and all other boards that may be necessary to weatherboard said bridge (at Little Beaver mills) in the following manner: white pine boards of three-fourths of an inch thick, to be seasoned or nearly so, to be planed on one side, jointed and beaded, and put on the sides of said bridge lengthwise and to have the same course as the bearing beams and plates, the bearing beams and arch beams to be boarded with inch boards of the width of the same with a moulding above and over each to turn the rain or water off the ends of all the bearing joist beams to be boxed on three sides in such a way that the upper side shall elevate from the end to the weatherboarding at least four inches and the sides made close and tight, the ends of the posts below the arch beams and posts at each end of the bridge to be boxed on three sides with inch boards, well seasoned and planed, the eaves to be boxed with inch boards also seasoned and planed , the whole of the boards to be clear of sap, wind shakes, and splits; also to put four venetian blinds of the size of a fifteen-light window (of 8 by ten inches glass) two on each side of the bridge when wanted, to be well cased and faced, with the blinds let into the easing, the whole to be done in a complete and workmanlike manner by the said defendants and the said Williams at their own proper expense and risk, also to paint the sides of the said bridge, roof, and gable ends with two coats of Spanish brown paint, except the bearing beams, arch beams, eaves and the facing of the blinds which are to be painted white (also with two coats)…”
While the court case concerned work that had not been completed by the contractor, it may be assumed that the bridge as eventually completed, hopefully by someone more reliable than the defendants, would have been finished in the same manner as specified. After 1811, references to the structure itself are infrequent. In 1832 John Bever wrote his will, giving his interest in the bridge and the land on which it stood to Shakespeare Moore, son of partner Thomas Moore. If the young Shakespeare Moore entertained dreams of owning a bridge, he was to be disappointed. In 1834 Bever changed his mind, and in a codicil to his will, gave the bridge to the county. Nearly 200 years later, we can still imagine young Moore’s disappointment. Then, as now, people were seldom given bridges.
It is unclear how long Ohio’s first covered bridge remained standing. According to Thomas J. Malone, “the skeleton of the wooden bridge spanned the creek for some years after the iron bridge (see below) was open to traffic [in 1888].”4 This mention by Malone, who evidently pulled facts from a hat and avoided footnotes and references whenever possible, is the only indication that the bridge still survived at that late date. Several maps give tantalizing clues. While the bridge was clearly shown on several early maps—a map published in 1846 is the latest that shows the road crossing the creek at the site of the bridge—an 1860 Columbiana County map indicates that the bridge was unused by that date. On a survey map dated 1861, the bridge is shown and labeled “old bridge.” The following notice from November 28 of the same year appeared in the Buckeye State, New Lisbon, Ohio:
“We had occasion, on Friday last, to go to Smith’s Ferry, and one or two other localities in that direction, but the bridge, at the Little Beaver crossing, near Laughlin’s store, swept away by the August freshet, not yet being rebuilt, and finding it impossible to get across the creek with a horse, we were consequently obliged to foot it some eight or ten miles over the stoniest, hilliest, muddiest, and dreariest portion of the earth that could possibly be imagined. We were informed that the stone work of the bridge had been finished for some two weeks, and that the timber was prepared, ready for the speedy completion of the job, but the contractors were somewhere else at work, putting up a railroad bridge…”5
Another survey map indicates that a new covered bridge was erected over the stream around the year 1870, though it is possible that the November 28 newspaper notice given above referred to the second bridge. Three hundred yards downstream from the original bridge, this bridge with a span of 128 feet would stand for nearly two decades before being replaced by an iron bridge in 1888.
In the shadow of Long’s Run Presbyterian Church, beneath an epitaph that the elements have rendered illegible, lies the body of printer John Spear. His life began on a cool August day in Philadelphia in the third year of the American Revolution. It ended, 64 years later and 350 miles away, in a forgotten settlement in the valley of Little Beaver Creek known as Spear’s Mills. This is his story.
John Spear sat at his desk, put on his gold-rimmed spectacles, and began writing his will. It was April and there was a fresh, earthy smell in the air. As he wrote instructions for the disposal of his property, Spear realized he would need only one sheet of paper, for his possessions were few. A well-worn silver watch kept time in his pocket. His furniture consisted of an old bureau, two armchairs, and a featherbed. Nearby were books by Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper. He did, however, own several hundred acres of land and a thriving gristmill under the management of R. C. Holmes, who lived with Spear. There was a well-stocked store adjacent to the mill, where the romantically minded pioneer couple could purchase a bearskin, liniment, and licorice balls. Nearby, one could experience the stench of a tan yard and the noise of a blacksmith shop and sawmill. Twenty houses, homes for the workers, were scattered throughout the settlement. It was a bustling place and only the Franklin Paper Mill, built in 1813, was silent. And yet, despite his considerable property, despite the industry, and despite the activity, John Spear’s estate was worth a mere $65,000 in today’s money.
When he had finished writing, Spear laid his pen on the desk and began to reminisce. He thought of his first sight of Pittsburgh at the turn of the century and his good fortune at finding employment as an apprentice printer under energetic Quaker Zadok Cramer, whose bookstore, printshop, and bindery at the “Sign of the Franklin Head” on Market Street was fast becoming a Pittsburgh institution. Spear remembered the pride he had felt in 1808 as he pulled a sheet from the press bed, the ink still wet, and first read the imprint, Cramer & Spear, his name beside that of his former master, now his partner.
It seemed so long ago. Cramer, who had written of the “uprightness and integrity” of Spear’s character, lay in an unmarked grave near Pensacola, Florida, a victim of the “white death” at age thirty-nine. Another partner, William Eichbaum, had left the firm in 1817. Cramer’s widow, Elizabeth, who became Spear’s partner after her husband’s death, had followed Zadok Cramer to the grave in 1818, the same year the Sign of the Franklin Head would move from Market to Wood Street. Spear remembered leaving the noise of the city and relocating to quiet Ohio, where he supervised the paper and grist mills while Susan, Cramer’s daughter, attended to the business in Pittsburgh. So many things had changed. Only Susan was left. She had been Spear’s last business partner. She would remain his dearest friend.
Spear’s thoughts turned to the many books the firm had printed, some of them still for sale in the store by the mill,their pages beginning to brown and fox. His life’s work had been to take paper, type, and ink and create the printed word, something of far greater worth than its constituent parts. Cramer’s Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, a guide to the western rivers that was as essential to the emigrant as the Bible, corn whiskey, and a sharp axe. Cramer’s Pittsburgh Almanac, the farmer’s guide that provided moon phases, weather predictions, and helpful hints to cure pests and diseases, all of it essential information for a primarily agrarian society. Brown’s Dictionary of the Holy Bible, the first illustrated book printed west of the Alleghenies. The first printed account of the Lewis & Clark expedition; ubiquitous school books such as the United States Speller and Murray’s English Reader; canonic titles such as Robinson Crusoe and the Vicar of Wakefield; biographies of Washington, Columbus, and Franklin; the Holy Bible; a book of hymns; other religious books; and even such esoteric titles as A Report of the Trial of the Journeyman Shoemakers, unfortunately now out of print. There were many more, now forgotten.
Spear felt sadness as he thought of the day in 1832 when the “Sign of the Franklin Head” was sold to M. P. O’Hern and the firm of Cramer & Spear had ceased to exist. Unable to sell the Ohio property, he had tried to rent the paper mill, without success. Several years later, Spear’s Mills was for sale again. Once more, he had failed to find a buyer. Spear had decided to stay, leaving everything to Susan, his “old and valued friend” George Cochran, and young Holmes, who would inherit the store and gristmill.
Spear arose from his desk to attend to the farm. Although he sensed that his time was short, he was satisfied, for he understood that he would outlive his own memory. Through his books he had helped to improve the lives of countless people. He had instructed them in their youth, he had taught them in their adolescence, he had strengthened their faith, and he had guided them on their way to a better life. For a man who would soon be forgotten, it was quite a bequest.
That autumn, on October 12, John Spear died and was buried, according to his wishes, in the “nearest Presbyterian burial ground.” Seven years later, stonecutter John Jackson would erect a chest tomb over the grave and carve these words on the sandstone slab:
“In Memory of John Spear, Printer and Book Publisher…
Oh! Never did a purer spirit rise
More meekly firm, more innocently gay
More humbly good, or charitably wise.”
This article first appeared in the East Liverpool Review, Sunday, 1 November 2015.
This map from the 1821 edition of Cramer’s Navigator shows the Ohio River in the tri-state area. Both Little Beaver Creek, opposite Georgetown, and Yellow Creek, lower left, are unnamed. [author’s collection]
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.”Keep Reading
The Pringle brothers were weary of the French & Indian War, nor did they care for the uneventful life of a soldier on garrison duty at Fort Pitt. Had they been born two centuries later, they could have watched a Pirates game, but in 1761 their options for excitement were limited. So they decided to desert the British army, heading upstream along the Monongahela River, avoiding wolves, bears, Indians, and the military until they found a ready-made hideout: the hollow of a giant American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). They lived inside the eleven foot-deep cavity for several years, hiding from the authorities, hunting and fishing for their sustenance, and obviously not terribly afraid of spiders.
In an age when most people prefer houses, living inside a tree seems rather crowded and uncomfortable, not to mention the difficulties that accompany arranging furniture in a round room, something to which Rapunzel could attest. But the early settlers of the Ohio valley didn’t expect to be comfortable. They were tough, rugged, hardened, and smelled bad enough to be oblivious to discomfort. Furthermore, it took time to clear land and build a cabin. They needed a place to live in the meantime. Sycamores, most of which become hollow as they age, were more than accommodating.
If it wasn’t for the multitude of accounts of monstrous sycamores one could easily dismiss the reports as exaggeration, tall tales having by then already
become an American tradition. There are numerous anecdotes of the hollow trees being used as smokehouses, granaries, living quarters, stables, and dining rooms. For example, in 1749 a Frenchman, Monseigneur Bonnecamps, and his party dined inside a sycamore tree. Sure, they could have had a picnic but eating outside wasn’t as much fun when there was no proper inside for contrast, so they entered the tree, said their blessing, and had their feast. This particular tree being so commodious, Bonnecamps would later write that 29 men were “ranged side by side” within the trunk, an unusual after-dinner diversion but illustrative of the size of the cavity. Unfortunately, as the camera had yet to be invented, he was unable to take a photo of the event. One rarely gets to see 29 Frenchmen inside a tree.
Pittsburgh printer and publisher Zadok Cramer, a Quaker with business interests on Little Beaver Creek, wrote the following in his Cramer’s Ohio & Mississippi Navigator, a popular 19th century travel guide:
“The Sycamore seems to be the king of the forest on the banks of the Ohio. Their monstrous growth, towering height, and extended branches really fill the beholder with awe and astonishment. Between Wheeling and Marietta I measured several from 10 to 16 feet over [diameter], four feet above ground, and this seems to be their common size…In the fall of the leaf, and when the year’s growth of bark begins to peel off these trees, the rays of the bright moon playing through their white branches, form a scene uncommonly brilliant, and quite cheering and amusing to the nightly traveller.”
And if a Jesuit priest and a Quaker are not convincing enough, George Washington, who as everyone knows was made of marble and incapable of telling a lie, was so impressed with the size of the sycamores that he took time to record the dimensions of several specimens near the mouth of the Kanawha river in present-day WV, on a Sunday no less, colonial Sabbath strictures obviously not applying to running up and down the riverbank measuring trees. Washington wrote in his diary:
“…we met with a Sycamore abt. 60 yards from the River of a most extraordinary size it measuring (3 feet from the Gd.) 45 feet round, lacking two Inches & not 50 yards from it was another 31 round…”
As the 19th century progressed and the upper Ohio Valley became more settled, rugged pioneers turned into sturdy farmers who no longer needed to share houses with owls and spiders and by the 1830s, sycamore living was a thing of the past.
The French & Indian war concluded in 1763 and the Pringle brothers, no longer wanted for desertion, left their tree in 1767 and returned to civilization. They never did get to see a Pirates game.
After various posts in Canada and France as a missionary and professor of mathematics, Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps became a précepteur des enfants (a cooler way to say private tutor) in France, where he died in 1790, presumably never again having dinner in a tree.
Soon after having returned from the Ohio valley to Mount Vernon, his estate in Virginia, George Washington was too busy founding a country to mess with measuring trees. He continued to tell the truth.
“[A tree]…in Scioto county, Ohio, on the land of Mr. Abraham Miller, into whose hollow thirteen men rode on horseback, June 6, 1808, the fourteenth did not enter, his horse being skittish, and too fearful to advance in so curious an apartment, but there was room enough for two more.” Cramer’s Navigator, 1821
In most of the world, sycamores are known as plane trees.
Due to the peculiar seed balls, it is often called a buttonball or buttonwood.
A sycamore tree can live for 500 years and reach heights of over 120 feet.
The largest known living specimen is in Jeromesville, Ohio; a monster measuring 129 feet high, nearly 49 feet in circumference, and with a crown spread of 105 feet.
The sycamore trees common on the streets of E. Liverpool and other towns are a hybrid known as the London Plane Tree, a cross between the American Sycamore and the Oriental Plane Tree. They are more tolerant of air pollution and may be distinguished by the presence of seed balls in pairs, not singly as in the American sycamore.
In the Bible, Zacchaeus climbed a tree known as the sycamore fig, unrelated to our sycamore trees.
At daybreak the fog lay heavily on the river as it had nearly every morning since Capt. Meriwether Lewis and his party of eleven soldiers and hired hands left Pittsburgh six days earlier. As he directed the morning activity of the camp at the northern tip of Virginia (present-day Chester, WV) and waited for the fog to disperse, Lewis may have reflected that for someone who hoped to traverse the continent, much of it terra incognito, the beginning of the voyage had been less than auspicious. He undoubtedly looked forward to reaching Wheeling, where the river would deepen, allowing Lewis and his men to spend more time in the boats and less of their day in the water dragging the boats over the numerous sandbars that awaited anyone traveling the shallow upper Ohio River. Though widely considered the most beautiful waterway in the fledgling United States, the Ohio upstream of Wheeling was notoriously difficult to navigate in low water and as Lewis would write in a letter to President Thomas Jefferson several days later, the water level in the autumn of 1803 was “lower than it has ever been known by the oldest settler in this country,” a scant six inches deep in some places. The pattern since leaving Pittsburgh had been thus: float several miles, get fast on a sandbar, drag the boat off, repeat.
Lewis had arrived in Pittsburgh on July 15th, anxious to disembark soon after and join his partner, Lt. William Clark, who awaited him further downstream in Kentucky. Lewis had expected to find a 55-foot keelboat finished and ready to descend the river; what awaited him was the frame of an unfinished craft and a drunken boat builder with corn whiskey on his breath and a ready supply of excuses and empty promises. Lewis sent some of his baggage overland to Wheeling and then attempted to oversee construction of the vessel while the boat builder continued to drink. On August 31st. , two weeks after his arrival, the keelboat was completed. He and his men loaded the craft and a large canoe that Lewis had also purchased, and left three hours later.
The first four days of travel had been nearly as frustrating as the wait. On the morning of the 4th, after having left their camp near present-day Beaver, PA they had traveled for only an hour when the “pirouge” (a canoe that speaks French)  sprang a leak and nearly sank, a mishap Lewis considered “truly distressing, as her load consisting of articles of hard-ware, intended for the Indians got wet and I fear are much damaged.” Having bailed out the water and jury-rigged the craft as best they could, they set off again and had floated only three miles further when the keelboat “got fast on a bar” just below Georgetown, PA.
Georgetown hadn’t exactly blossomed since it was founded by Maryland native, Benoni Dawson, a decade earlier. When Lewis arrived on that autumn day in 1803, it was still an insignificant village, described by traveler William Newton Mercer as “the last and among the least towns in Pennsylvania.” Christian Schultz, writing several years later, was more specific: “The character of Georgetown is not much esteemed by navigators of the Ohio; it is particularly pointed out as being inhabited by a set of quarrelsome fellows…” Meriwether Lewis, as it turned out, would not have disagreed. He and his men could not dislodge the keelboat from the “Georgetown Bar” without the aid of horses or oxen. Reluctantly, he sent to Georgetown for help. He had hired locals for the same purpose since leaving Pittsburgh and wasn’t pleased with the prospect, explaining that “The inhabitants who live near these riffles live much by the distresed situation of [the] traveller, are generally lazy, charge extravegantly when they are called on for assistance, and have no filantrophy or contience [sic].” Although it is not known how much was paid for the assistance, the additional help enabled them to dislodge the vessel, although still “with much difficulty.” Lewis also took advantage of the interruption to purchase another French-speaking canoe as well as to hire an additional hand by the name of Wilkinson to replace another he had dismissed at Beaver. Whether Lewis was overcharged for the help in getting the keelboat dislodged from the bar is unknown – that he was swindled by whomever sold him the canoe and two poles he purchased for $11 is certain, for they had hardly gotten underway once more when Lewis discovered that the new pirouge leaked as badly as the older one, dangerously so. Lewis had no choice: both canoes were unsafe and though it was still early evening, he determined to stop for the night. Finding a suitable location a couple of miles below Georgetwon “on the east short,”  Lewis set his men to work repairing both of the watercraft and laying out the soggy gifts to dry in the sun. By nightfall the items were dry and Lewis ordered them wrapped in oilcloth and repacked in wooden casks. He was pleased to note in his journal that the “articles were not as much injured as I had supposed.” Still, it hadn’t been the best day.
Although September 4th had been frustrating, Lewis probably found it difficult to be pessimistic the next morning as the rising sun chased away the fog. He stepped onto the keelboat, his Newfoundland dog, Seaman, at his side and directed the men to disembark. It was 8 a.m. as they set off. Although they “got fast” on several more occasions, he found it unnecessary to hire any more assistance from lazy, over-charging locals before reaching Wheeling two days later, having traveled 90 miles since leaving Pittsburgh. In Georgetown, someone may have been rather pleased with himself for selling the leaky canoe, little dreaming that he had bilked what would become one of our nation’s most celebrated journeys of discovery, the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It was a mere footnote to an enterprise that would take the men across the continent and back, but on the shallow upper Ohio in that autumn of 1803, Virginia native Capt. Meriwether Lewis may have earned an extra measure of the patience, fortitude, and perseverance for which he would be remembered.
A careful reading of the journal indicates that Lewis used the terms “pirogue” and “canoe” interchangeably.
The “hand by the name of Wilkinson” who Lewis had hired at Georgetown was dismissed in Marietta on September 13th.
It is interesting to speculate on Lewis’s use of “on the east shore” when referring to the party’s camp on the night of September 4th. A glance at the map will show that the Virginia shore would have been south and the Ohio shore north. Did Lewis mean Virginia, which would be the eastern shore once the group turned south soon after leaving the next morning or the eastern shore as it had been since they’d left Pittsburgh, in which case Lewis and his men would have camped for the night somewhere near Fawcettstown, now East Liverpool, in Ohio?
Once again my dad and I went looking for the Pennsylvania & Ohio paper mill. As we were looking, we found a well. I started to dig. Sadly, I found nothing but dirt. But I didn’t dig that far down. We did find a lot of pottery somewhere else.
If you look at this picture it says: James Veness Spruce Vale 1902. James and his wife are buried in Clarkson cemetery just a couple of miles from where the famous criminal, Pretty Boy Floyd, was killed. He came from England to the United States. If you look at the upper window on the left, you’ll notice there is a face. No fear–it’s not.
Yesterday, my dad and I went to look for Job Harvey’s paper mill (near Island Run), known as the Ohio & Pennsylvania paper Mill. We also decided to visit two Sandy & Beaver Canal locks that were close. While we were passing through the canal channel, I noticed a pottery shard lying on the ground. Of course, I picked it up and kept it. Then all of a sudden, I saw another piece of pottery, and then another, nearly every second. I found glass, white pottery, kiln posts and Homer Laughlin china, some of it Fiesta Ware.
If you know where the first iron bridge was located below the town of Little Beaver Bridge, you might want to look at this picture. Did you know that on the site of the iron bridge, there was once a covered bridge? The photo above is the covered bridge before there was the iron bridge! You see, my dad and I thought that it was the first covered bridge (Little Beaver Bridge, the bridge, not the town), then he lined it up with the iron bridge and found out that there was another covered bridge after the first one, in a different place!