Martha Simanton Nelson was born in 1897 in southern Clear Creek Township of Ashland County, three to four miles north of Ashland. Her family, the VanNostrand’s, had a farm there from 1816-1916.
Peter VanNostrand, Martha Nelson’s great-great grandfather, settled in Clear Creek Township in 1816 and was probably the earliest settler in that section of Ashland County. Near his farm were a school and a burying ground where members of the VanNostrand family are interred.
Martha Nelson recalled her grandmother’s story of Sara Brink. Her grandmother’s husband’s father, Mr. Imhoff, was among the searching party who went out with torches at night to try to find Sara who had got lost in the forest filled with virgin timber on her way to a friend’s house. Sara was found the next day among a Delaware Indian tribe encamped near Savannah Lake. When the Indians had rescued her, she was half frozen. They kept her, however, from going near the fire which would have harmed her in her condition.
Martha Nelson recalled her grandmother also telling about the time when President Lincoln died. They heard by telegraph in Savannah of his death. The Ashland County Courthouse bell tolled all day long. When later her grandmother came into Ashland, she saw all the houses on Cottage Street draped in black crepe.
Martha Nelson’s father told her about the Horn and Gribben hanging in 1884. As a boy, he on the day of the hanging did not go to school as he was supposed to do. He rode his pony into Ashland and witnessed the hanging from on top of one of the buildings across from the Courthouse yard. He told how mob-rule prevailed, how people threw cobblestones from the street and dragged the coffin with Horn in it up Church Street to the Mecca. Mrs. Nelson’s mother claimed she heard the shouts of the mob three miles away. The events of the day got so out of hand, in fact, that this was proved to be the last “public” hanging in Ohio. Future executions were performed at the State Penitentiary in Columbus.
Martha Nelson, in relating the history of her house at 115 West Washington Street, said that she has deeds to the property going back to 1832 when the land on which the house was situated was part of Richland County. Although the exact date of when the house was built is not known, the house does appear to be one of the oldest houses still standing on Washington Street and in Ashland. A Mr. Sheets from Wooster lived in the house after the Civil War. The McClain family also occupied it for many years.
A well, a spring, and a large virgin elm tree once were situated to the rear of the house. All three are now gone.
The oldest house on West Washington Street is, according to Mrs. Nelson, undoubtedly the Joel Luther house, #226. Joel Luther, the first physician in Ashland, once owned all the land around this house. Luther Street is named for him.
Rene Hill, daughter of Ashland County historian George Hill, was quite an artist. She died destitute, in Italy. A Mrs. Moherman of Pleasant Street paid to have her body returned to Ashland for burial in the Ashland Cemetery. Although she is buried near her father’s grave, her grave is as yet unmarked.
The story has been told to Martha Nelson that Dr. Hill, who lived on the southwest corner of Center and Washington Streets and whose house when it was standing was near Mrs. Nelson’s house, once grew very discouraged by the lack of sales of his Ashland County history book, published in 1885; he became so discouraged, in fact, that he threw some of these histories into a big bonfire behind his house.
A beautiful Georgian style house with a wide center hall once stood on Cottage Street across from the Catholic Church. It was built by Francis Graham, the first postmaster in Ashland. A large Victorian porch was later added to the house. It had quite a large yard in front of it. Attorney J. W. Smith and his family occupied for many years. It had no central heating. It fell into great disrepair around the turn of the century and was eventually torn down. (A gravel parking lot now occupies the site.)
The house which Mrs. Nelson’s family occupied on the west side of Cottage Street was known as the Beckwith house. It was thought to have been built in 1854 and was occupied by Harry Mykrantz and also by Judge Mansfield who remodeled the interior and added a porch. Mrs. Nelson’s grandparents bought the house in 1901. It had heavy beveled windows.
The Crall house was built around 1840-42 on Cottage Street, standing next door to Mrs. Nelson’s old house. It was built by Mr. Crall who owned the bank. The house was later owned by the Otter family. It has been demolished.
The house on the south corner of Cottage and Pleasant streets belonged to Alan Sharrick, brother of the jeweler who lived on Center Street.
As a little girl living on Cottage Street, Mrs. Nelson watched horse-drawn cabs and hacks go down to the depot to pick up salesmen and take them to the Otter Hotel. The drivers would whip their horses to see who would get to the depot first. Heddinger’s owned the cabs. Sometimes she would watch the circus some in off the train.
Decoration Day during the early 1900’s was a special day. The GAR veterans marched and carried bouquets. In earlier days they carried wreaths over their shoulders. Later they were driven in automobiles. At 1:00 there would be a meeting at the Opera House. Someone would read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and then someone else would give a talk.
In 1903 in February the Opera House caught on fire. It was very cold. The water froze, and the fireman had a very bad time. The old Opera House was elegant. We had our high school commencement there.
Minstrel shows, like the Christy Minstrels, used to come to the Opera House, and stock companies would come to play for a week. And there were hometown shows, too. In particular, Mrs. Nelson recalled hearing about a Civil War drama her father, Todd Simanton, saw, The Drummer Boy of Shiloh. A Mr. Naylor put it on. The Luce family on Washington Street were major players. The hit song of the play was “The Vacant Chair,” a very sentimental, weepy song.
In 1917 Martha Nelson graduated from Ashland High School. She remembered boys she had gone to school with marching up Cottage Street early in the morning to board trains at the depot. A drum corps accompanied them. It was composed of a snare drum, a bass drum, and a fife. Dr. Furrey of the College was on the draft board. He would meet the boys at the depot and gave each of them a Testament: “I got out of bed to watch them go up there. It was very sad.”
Mrs. Nelson recalled the fire at the depot during World War II. There was an explosion and one man was killed. The fire went into the sewers and in the creek. Gasoline ran down Cottage Street. She recalled walking up Cottage Street and having to turn back because it was to dangerous to go farther.
Ard Blackford was a coal dealer who also did cement work. He was from Savannah and is buried there. He organized Ashland’s first Boy Scout troop and went to the Tenth Street Church when it was just a mission church. He gave lots of money to charity and would walk all the way to Mifflin to teach a Sunday School class. A police dog was always with him. His motto, Keep Sweet, is written in many of the cement sidewalks of Ashland.
The (Trinity) Lutheran Church in the early days was located in a building on the corner of Third and Orange Streets which had been a brewery. It and about twenty houses burned in a bad fire about 1883. Rev. Arthur Smith married her parents. He came from Wittenburg as a theologian. He returned to Ashland in 1908 and remained here 45 years.
Will Duff and Mrs. Nelson’s father explored the county and the cemeteries. They tried to locate sites of the Underground Railroad in Ashland County and were especially interested in the Garrick farmhouse north of Savannah and the Bebout farmhouse three miles west of Savannah.
Mrs. Nelson’s father accompanied Will Duff to Indianapolis for the dedication of a Johnny Appleseed monument, marking J. A.’s grave there. Mr. Duff made a speech during the ceremony. The grave site was then a pasture.
Will Duff was a kindly man. He left behind many notebooks filled with clippings. In these notebooks he had pressed flowers between nearly every page. He was reared by Mrs. Mary Freer.
Will Duff was bald and heavy-set. He was a nice-looking man. His wife, Carrie Cowan Duff, was quite large. Mrs. Nelson recalled her saying once, “I don’t know what I’ll ever do with that room!” referring to the room in which Mr. Duff kept his notebooks and clippings. It was filled to capacity with Ashland County history.
The Will Duff house located on East Main Street (approximately where the Super X Drug Store is now) was a brick farmhouse with an iron fence around it. It had formerly been a Freer house.
Pleasant Street School was built in 1911. A two-room clapboard school stood on the site originally. Mrs. Nelson attended seventh and eighth grades at Pleasant Street School and taught there 36 years.