Springfield, Ohio

History and Genealogy



The First Mayor


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 462


By Oscar T. Martin

After the elevation of the village to the dignity of a town, an election was had to fill the offices of Mayor, or President of the Board of Trustees. James L. Torbert was elected to this office. He had come to Springfield in 1824, and was an active young attorney, but, as there was not sufficient legal business to occupy all his attention, he also taught school. It was at his schoolhouse, on the northeast corner of Market and North streets, on the 25th day of June, A.D. 1827, that he, with several other members of the First Presbyterian Church, organized the first Sabbath school. He was afterward elected Prosecuting Attorney, to which office he brought a clear head and an earnest desire to faithfully administer its duties. In 1848, he was editor of the Republic, and wrote many pungent arguments against the "Free-Soilers," whom he charged as recreant to their principles in not indorsing the Whig nominees for President. As an ardent Whig, he entered vigorously into the campaign, during which he gained the reputation of being one of the most effective stump speakers in the Congressional district of which his county was then a part. As Judge of the Common Pleas, successor to Judge Swan, his able and impartial decisions were the subject of favorable comment.

A record of a census taken by a citizen appears in the Western Pioneer of September 28, 1828. It gives an accurate statement of the population, the number of stores and manufacturing establishments. It shows that the people were industrious, and that the manufactories were diversified. We find from this enumeration that there were in the limits of the town at that time 935 souls. Of these, there were of male adults 285; of female adults, 225; males under eighteen, 218; females under sixteen, 207. There were fifty-four blacksmith-shops, four coach and wagon shops, two common and fancy chair shops, four boot and shoe maker shops, three tanneries, and a currier-shop, twenty-seven house carpenters and joiners. There were six tailor-shops, three saddle and harness shops, three bakeries, three cabinet-shops, one clock and watch maker, two hatters, one coppersmith-shop, one tin-shop, two millwrights, two extensive distilleries, fourteen general mercantile stores, four groceries, a new paper-mill, an extensive flour-mill, three good houses of entertainment, four public schools, two for females and two for males, in one of which the higher branches of literature and the Greek and Latin languages were taught; four attorneys at law, five physicians, three slaughter houses, three brick-yards, two house and sign painters, one gun-shop, one portrait, miniature and fancy painter, engraver and gilder, two wheelwrights, one pottery. This enumerator also states that at that time they had a court house, which, in point of neatness and convenience, would not suffer in comparison with any court house in Ohio; a brick jail, two churches, and a third in building, a printing office, a post office, at which twenty-four mails are received weekly, in elegant four-horse coaches." In 1830, the population reached 1,080.

One of the prominent citizens, who, about this time, became identified with Springfield's fortunes, was Reuben Miller, who was the son of Rev. Robert Miller, a local minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born on the 19th day of January, 1797, in an old schoolhouse at the mouth of Pike Run, on the Monongahela River, near Brownsville, Penn., where his father had stopped to spend the winter of 1796-97 while emigrating from Virginia to Kentucky. From this point the family journeyed by flat-boat to Limestone (now Maysville), Ky., and settled in Mason County, and afterward removed to Fleming County in that State.

In March, 1812, in order to escape the evils of slavery, his father removed his family to Champaign County, Ohio, where he located upon a farm within the bounds of the present Moorefield Township, in Clark County. At this time, Reuben was but fifteen years of age. He worked upon the farm until he was twenty-two years of age, when he turned his attention to study, and, by close application, without a teacher, for three or four years (in the meantime occasionally teaching school), he acquired a pretty fair English education; as he, in his own biography, relates, "became a very good arithmetician, learned to write a good hand, became a pretty good grammarian, studied geometry, trigonometry, surveying, navigation, and acquired some knowledge of astronomy; also commenced the study of the Latin language, but failed for want of an instrucor."

On the 27th of March, 1823, he married Mary Hedges, who was born in Berkeley County, Virginia, and was living at that time with a brother in Champaign County, Ohio, and in the month of December following, removed to a cabin which he had built on a farm given to him by his father, in Moorefield Township, where he resided, farming a little, teaching school, and occasionally making land surveys, until the 10th of April, 1828, when he removed to Springfield; the occasion of the removal was his appointment, by the Court of Common Pleas, in the fall of 1827, as County Surveyor of Clark County. Springfield had then grown from a village of a few houses, as he first saw it in 1812, to be a town of about 800 to 900 inhabitants. At that time, there was little surveying to be done, and his first employment was in the County Clerk's office. Afterward, he taught a school for three or four years in Springfield. He was County Surveyor for nine years, during a part of which time he was also a Justice of the Peace and Mayor, or rather, as it then was named, President of the Town Council of Springfield. During this time, he acquired some means, went into the dry-goods business with a man by the name of Carrick, who in two years succeeded in loading the concern down with debt, and then died, leaving his partner many thousand dollars minus, notwithstanding which his energies were not impaired, but he went diligently to work, and, after fourteen years of hard struggle, paid off all his indebtedness.

In the fall of 1838, he was elected County Auditor of Clark County, and was re-elected to eight successive terms, serving in that position eighteen years, from March, 1839, to March, 1857. In the fall of 1856, during his last term as Auditor, he was elected Justice of the Peace of Springfield township, and was re-elected five terms, serving in that position eighteen years, until the fall of 1874. He became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in September, 1812, and, in the year 1835, was ordained a Local Deacon, and afterward a Local Elder in the same church, and held that relation to the church until he died. On the 2d of January, 1875, his wife died, and then, at the earnest solicitation of his only living daughter, he went to reside with her at Keokuk, Iowa, where he died on the 3d day of October, 1880, from a gradual failing of the bodily powers, at the ripe old age of nearly eighty-three years, and was subsequently buried in Fern Cliff Cemetery, in this city. He left five living children — Dr. D. B. Miller, of Covington, Ky.; Joseph N. Miller, of Springfield, Ohio, present Probate Judge; Commander Joseph N. Miller, United States Navy; and Henry R. Miller and Mrs. R. B. Ogden of Keokuk, Iowa.

He was a man of correct character and habits, peculiar and almost eccentric in some of his ways; he had a keen sense of the humorous, and was almost invariably sunny and jocular in his moods. He had a more than ordinary share of natural ability, but was hampered by his imperfect chances for education and his business misfortunes, so that he himself felt, notwithstanding that he was a prominent and honored citizen, that he never attained ot the full measure of his strength. He was much given to humorous versification, and as a specimen of his peculiar modes of thought, we append in conclusino of this sketch his epitaph, written by himself many years before his death:

"Here lies a man — a curious one,
No one can tell what good he's done,
Nor yet how much of evil;
Where now his soul is, who can tell?
In heaven above, or low in hell?
With God or with the devil?

"While living here he oft would say
That he must shortly turn to clay,
And quickly rot —
This thought would sometimes cross his brain.
That he perhaps might live again
And maybe not.

"As sure as he in dust doth lie,
He died because he had to die,
But much against his will;
He had got all that he desired,
This man would never have expired,
He had been living still."