The grand old village of South Amherst will celebrate its centennial in 2018.
“There’s a very rich history here and a legacy,” said William Jones, president of the South Amherst Historical Society.
The nonprofit, formed this past January, is planning a yearlong celebration to mark 100 years since incorporation.
It will kick off with a centennial dance at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27 at the South Ridge Hall. Organizers hope folks will attend in early 1900s clothing to enjoy food, live music, and more. (See the News-Times bulletin board for more information.)
One hundred years ago, the village was formally recognized and Fred Ruth was chosen as the first mayor.
But South Amherst’s story starts much earlier. Modern-day Rt. 113 was built during the War of 1812 and the first settlers arrived in 1814 when Reuben Webb settled at the corner of what is now Quarry Road.
The next year, Stephen Cable and Chiliab Smith arrived with their families. Smith built the first tavern, where settlers lodged until their cabins were constructed.
This year will also be a bicentennial of sorts, 200 years since the arrival of “Captain” Eliphalet Redington, a Massachusetts lawyer whose original tract is now home to village hall.
He has a claim to the first permanent settlement in what is now South Amherst, and Redington is credited with bringing industry, commerce, education, and legal and government offices to town.
After Jacob Shupe built a mill on Beaver Creek on modern-day Cooper Foster Park Road in Amherst, Redington built a saw mill in South Amherst. He also kept a store and post office. During his long tenure as postmaster, the area was annexed as Black River Township and then became Amherst Township.
He was among those who called for the railroad to pass through town, but those efforts failed.
As a land sales agent, Redington worked with Philo Stewart and the Rev. John Shipherd to procure land that would be clear to found the city of Oberlin and its college. He was a charter member of Oberlin College, serving on its board of trustees and as treasurer.
Quarries ultimately were the biggest boon to South Amherst, though early settlers saw stone outcroppings as a blemish on the land.
They soon discovered a great commercial demand for locally-made grindstones, then great blocks used in construction all across the United States, Canada, and England.
The Ohio Geological Survey has praised the area’s “blue Amherst” sandstone for its strength, durability, fine texture, and color, which put the material in high demand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
By the 1870s, there were dozens of sandstone quarries in the township, from huge operations to small backyard pits. The business caused a boom in settlement, especially by German and other Eastern European immigrants looking for work.
In 1886, the Cleveland Stone Company was founded, growing into a multi-million dollar business. Jones said the commercialization of the natural resource was the area’s biggest boon.
Though all operations have long ceased, South Amherst to this day claims to be home to the world’s largest sandstone quarry.
Of course, it hasn’t always been called South Amherst.
The village’s name was long a disputed point. Through the years, it battled with its northern neighbor over the moniker — in fact, the larger city was once called North Amherst and sued to win the name Amherst.
Early on, a number of stills that grew up in the area earned the village the name Whiskeyville. In the early 1800s, whiskey-making was an honest and respected profession. The name was reinforced later during Prohibition when local booze-runners defied Johnny Law.
Another name — Kendeigh’s Corners — still exists today as the namesake of a small cemetery at Quarry and Middle Ridge roads.
Today, South Amherst is home to nearly 1,700 people. “It’s not just a small town with all the same residents anymore,” said Jones. “We’ve had a lot of people move in, and they need to know all about our history too.”
He wants to grow the historical society’s fledgling membership and instill a newfound sense of community pride, promote unity, and hold programs that will highlight the best the village has to offer.
In the centennial year, Jones and company aim to hold a car show, an ice cream social, and place a historical marker at town hall. This fall, they published a commemorative 2018 calendar, and a 2019 version is in the works.
To donate to the efforts, send gifts to the South Amherst Historical Society, c/o treasurer Lynn Schmitz, 48318 Telegraph Rd., Amherst, OH 44001.
Society members meet at 7 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at town hall. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or look for the group’s Facebook page.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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