History of Auglaize County
Clay Township—St. Johns
This village was founded by Daniel Bitler and John Rogers, in April, 1835, and named St. Johns, as a compromise between the founders, who both had decided preferences as to name. Daniel Bitler opened a store and blacksmith shop in 1834, while the site was still known as the Indian Village, "Blackhoof," bearing its name in honor of a noted chief of the Shawnee nation. His name is perpetuated by the small stream—Blackhoof Creek—which flows through and about the village, although the village name itself was changed. The first dwelling was erected by Ed. Williams, although at same time many Indian huts remained, some of which were occupied by the early whites. About the year 1835, Daniel Bitler opened the first hotel. Following these initial steps, came growths and decays of enterprises and men, until distant, but approaching railroads, gave impetus to competing towns, which, in turn, have retarded the growth of the village more than they robbed it of its strength. At this time, the business interests are represented by Wm. Bitler, proprietor Bitler House and store; Wm. Giberson, proprietor Giberson House and store; Gnagi Bro's, general merchandise and cooperage; Wm. Perkins, dealer in hats and caps, and boots and shoes; Thos. Emerson, druggist; Wm. Bush, wagon manufactory; and Wm. Herring, proprietor steam saw and grist mill. There are two resident physicians, Drs. Van Trump and J. M. Shaw. From its foundation its religious history traces with its growth. The Methodists were the pioneers, and organized a class at the outset, holding services in dwellings at first, then in the log school-house—significant of the period—until strength and ability enabled them to erect an early house, which was in turn superseded by the comfortable building they now occupy.
The Christians, too, have a society which grew from weakness to the maturer strength of to-day, and now they enjoy a substantial and comfortable building. Neither has education been neglected, for the facilities have been planted and fostered with a protecting care, until a substantial brick building, of two apartments, supplies the place of the rude log building, which had its era, as is general in new communities. The school records show an enrolment of 105 for the school year 1879-80.
The town is pleasantly located on a broken, sandy elevation, thus being almost removed from miasma, and well supplied with excellent water. Its position is on the line of Union and Clay townships, being chiefly in the latter, at a distance of six miles from the county seat, on the Wapakoneta and Belle Centre pike.
Radiating from St. Johns, settlements were formed along the line of the Bellefontaine road, and eastward, in line of Belle Centre pike. The territory comprised within the township was of a low, swampy character, except along the line of the deposit ridge, which crosses the northwest corner, reaching its highest and most broken point at St. Johns. Judging by the topography, there was little to encourage settlement, save the fertility of the soil, which is unsurpassed in the county. Still, a rich soil under water, and heavy timber, presented obstacles which necessity alone was courageous enough to meet and overcome; for the writer has been told by an honored pioneer that, on his arrival here, the lack of ten dollars was all that caused him to remain. The composition of the soil reveals a heavy loam, with clay and gravel sections.
The surface being generally flat, has required extensive artificial drainage, which is yet only begun in some sections, while other portions have been well drained. The timber was of a heavy character, embracing about all the indigenous varieties of the county. There are no important streams, but branches take their sources here, which assume size and names in other territory.
The inhabitants are English and German or their descendants. The north and east parts were settled chiefly by immigrants from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other eastern States, while the southwestern part was settled by Germans, and is still occupied by their descendants. The inhabitants are as yet chiefly engaged in the clearing and draining of the land. There are nine schools within the township, which in harmony with the improvements in other fields are developing under a promise of greater efficiency and usefulness. The interest a citizenship takes in education is largely an index to the condition of the schools The people can afford to foster educational facilities with tender care, while teachers, laboring under a grave responsibility, may well afford to realize those responsibilities, harmonize their efforts with that realization, and lift the school system to a level of living thought.
The M. E. Church of St. Johns was organized at the house of Charles Lusk, with twelve members, in 1833. Charles Lusk was appointed leader of this class, and its meetings were conducted at his house for an indefinite period. During this time the class was one of several organized along a line extending into Allen County. Revs. J. B. Finley and John Alexander were the pioneers in the work of organization. In 1835 Revs. David Burns and Wesley J. Wells succeeded to this field. At this writing the organization has a good house in the village of St. Johns with a veiy creditable membership. A rather strong society of Protestant Methodists have a very substantial brick building in the eastern part of the township. The German Methodists in the southwest have a strong society and a good frame building.
The Christians have an old organization in St. Johns, which is among the very first in this territory. They have a very comfortable frame house of worship.
From "History of Auglaize County, Ohio, with the Indian History of Wapakoneta, and the First Settlement of the County", Robert Sutton, Publishers, Wapakoneta, 1880