Connecting Rural Ohio
Connecting Rural Ohio: Chesterhill
Chesterhill is a village of 305 residents (U.S. 2000 census data) in southern Morgan County, about 90 miles southeast of Columbus. It is situated at the intersection of Ohio State Routes 377 and 555.
The Village of Chesterhill was founded by Quakers in 1834 and incorporated in 1899. Built in 1908, the Union Hall Theater provided a venue for speakers, musicians, artists and dramatic entertainers of the Chautauqua educational performance circuit for the first few decades of the 20th century.
In 1816 Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman visited family members in Center Township (in what would soon become Morgan County) at Moscow Hills. Johnny was an orchard businessman, humanitarian, and missionary for the Swedenborgian Church.
Morgan County in southeastern Ohio was established in 1818, while its county seat, McConnelsville, was established a year earlier. Also in 1818, Hyman Lazarus, of the Lazarus Department Store family, established a store across the Muskingum River in Malta.
By 1820 there were many Underground Railroad stations and routes established on new roads. Disguised Quakers began buying slaves at auctions, and led them to freedom. Big Bottom was one of those stations, as well as a place of abolition rallies. There were also Quaker Inn stations in Chesterhill, Malta, McConnelsville, Deavertown, Pennsville, Rosseau, Morganville, Tridelphia, and some private homes.
Waves of Ohio settlers began helping escaped slaves move north, but many of these slaves decided to remain free in Morgan County, and settled in southeastern Ohio communities such as Chesterhill, Big Bottom, and Santoy. These freed slaves sometimes married Indian and white spouses, contributing a tri-racial mix to Morgan County that is still present today.
In 1826 McConnelsville Methodist Episcopal Church was formally organized, but it is believed that the church had been meeting since 1817. General Robert McConnel donated two lots of land for the church. In 1939 the church was renamed Trinity Methodist Church.
In 1834 Chesterfield was established by three Quakers: D. Bowell, E. Hiatt and E. Bundy, with 100 acres costing $1 per acre purchased from the Ohio Company Land Office. In 1838 the city’s name was changed to Chesterhill. There was a yearly Chesterhill Fair from 1886-1933, which later combined with the Morgan County Fair.
In 1845, Morris Hardware, the second oldest continuing business in Morgan County, opened. It began as a tinsmith shop, and has been owned and operated by one family and their descendants since 1845 (five generations).
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law demanded that runaway slaves be returned to their owners. Many people in Morgan County ignored this law.
In 1858, the Morgan County Courthouse opened. It was built at a cost of $10,000, and still stands today. In 1892, the Morgan County Opera House opened with seating for 800. The Opera House, which still stands today, was the first Morgan County building to have electric lights.
Although Chesterhill today lacks any significant employment opportunities within the village, its proximity to local universities, manufacturing plants and construction sites provide workforce opportunities for residents. Unemployment rates for Chesterhill’s residents exceed those of many communities in Ohio’s Appalachian region, and residents do not have access to local workforce development or educational attainment opportunities. This results in high employment turnover for residents and a lack of professional advancement opportunities.
As an Appalachian community in Ohio, Chesterhill also has a unique cultural aspect for an Appalachian community in Ohio due to the significant African-American and American Indian populations within the community. In fact, Chesterhill is home to the Multicultural Genealogical Center of Chesterhill (MGCC), a non-profit organization that focuses on collecting and maintaining the unique cultural history and genealogies of families in the region whose ancestries span racial and cultural boundaries. The organization also seeks to educate members, visitors, and the public about the lives, roles, and contributions of those families and traditions to American society.
In 2002, Mayor Richard Wetzel of Chesterhill discovered that he owned an historic log house on Chesterhill’s Marion Street (State Route 377). Wetzel said he had planned to tear the house down, but decided against this when he investigated its history at the Morgan County Court House. According to court records, the house was built around 1868, and a postmaster named Dutton used it unofficially as a post office for 16 years (1868-1884). Mayor Wetzel would like the house to eventually be restored.
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Some of the information on this page is based on information from a 2003 document by Sandra J. Turner, called Morgan County History. The full Word document can be found at:http://www.morgan.lib.oh.us/Morgan%20County%20History%20Stories.doc.
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The 100-foot Chesterhill Water Tower is a significant component of the Satellite Internet Wireless Neighborhood deployed in Chesterhill. A 120-degree Sector Antenna and one of a paired Avalon Antenna array are mounted at the top of the tower.
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