Come One, Come All to Our Spectacular 3 Ring Circus

While doing some research within our archives I ran across an old hotel ledger from the National Hotel, located across the street from the Warren County Court House during the mid 1800’s. In a detailed bill, dated May 12th 1858, Charles Johnson is charged $1.50 for hay for elephant and $0.80 for oats for elephant. His stay spanned  February 22nd through May 10th. Can you imagine strolling through town and coming upon an elephant during your visit, in Lebanon Ohio, in the winter? Upon further research I was able to locate famous elephant trainer Charles Johnson, located within the index of the Circus Historical Society. This index lists him as an employee for George F. Bailey & Co. in 1866. It appears that this may be our infamous traveler who stayed in Lebanon with his elephant!

Animal menageries and the circus were present within the United States as early as 1793. In the early years they were ran as separate attractions until 1830, when promoters found a way to combine the two for one spectacular show. Exotic animals were a main attraction even prior to their participation in the show. Prior to films and mass produced photographs, this was the only opportunity for many people to view such spectacles. These shows capitalized on their popularity by traveling throughout the country by both wagons and railroad cars.

Warren County hosted a number of these traveling shows and was lucky enough to have their very own circus owner living in “The Ridge” community. James S. Totten owned and operated the “The Great Eastern Circus and Hippodrome.” The Warren County Ohio GenWeb Project has a great write up written in 1944, by Hazel Brooks. Brooks writes “Mr. Totten was the first man to transport his circus entirely by railroad.” Unfortunately due to the popularity of Barnum, Mr. Totten’s circus went out of business and some of the animals were given to the Cincinnati Zoo.

In addition to housing an elephant for some months, Warren County hosted numerous shows throughout the decades when circuses and menageries were popular. While looking through advertisements you can chronicle the changes these shows underwent through the years. What was once a small show with performances mainly by people with animals on display eventually transitioned into elaborate performances that included performances and tricks done by lions and elephants. Although many of the records for these smaller circuses do not surface often, it makes these small discoveries a treasure for local history and folklore.


For further reading:

Warren County Historical Society GenWeb Project

Circus Historical Society



Harveysburg Free Black School

In honor of Black History Month we are sharing a fascinating story of slavery, education, abolition, freedom, and overcoming adversity. In 1831, Dr. Jesse Harvey (1801-1848) and his wife Elizabeth Burgess Harvey (1801-1888), members of The Society of Friends, started one of the first free black schools in the Northwest Territory. Dr. Harvey built the one room school building on his own land in Harveysburg, Ohio. The Harvey’s were known as active abolitionists within the area and were confirmed conductors of the Underground Railroad. The school was commonly referred to as the East End School and remained open from 1831-1906, when it merged with the Harveysburg School District.

Map 1856

Warren County Map, 1856. Map details the property owned by Dr. Jesse Harvey and Stephen Wall.

Map 1867

Warren County Map, 1867. Map details property where the Free Black School was located (African School)

Colonel Stephen Wall (1791-1845), a southern plantation owner from Richmond County, North Carolina, reached out to Dr. Harvey regarding a group of mulatto children that he would like to provide an education for. Shortly after the school was established Mr. Wall sent eight of his mulatto children, along with one of their slave mothers, to live in Harveysburg. In Col. Wall’s last will and testament he emancipated all eight of his children and provided them with financial security, which included all the land Col. Wall had purchased in the Harveysburg area.

Captain Orindatus Simon Bolivar Wall, Col. Wall’s most renowned child, went on to become many great things such as a shoe and boot manufacturing shop owner,  recruiter and Captain in the Union Army, lawyer, politician, and much more. The Wall children used their land to further propel their success. Deed records show that part of the Wall property eventually became the site of Zion Baptist Church. The remainder of the property was sold off to fund their future success. The freedom that Col. Wall had given his children along with their secure financial future allotted them the opportunity to overcome adversity. All of his children went on to become independent and productive members of society.

Deed 32 - 491

Deed Record, Volume 32 Page 6

Further reading regarding the Wall family and the Free Black School can be found at the following links:

Karen S. Campbell Blog “Captain Orindatus Simon Bolívar Wall ~ From North Carolina to Harveysburg to Oberlin to Washington D. C.”

Dallas Bogan Article, 2004


Roads to people nowadays are a part of our lives. It’s never a question of whether we will be able to get from A-Z, our GPS will choose the fastest route utilizing the many roads within the county. In the early 1800’s this was not the case, typically there were only roads that led from one town to the next and the roads built to navigate through town. Early settlers traveled by waterway or trails that were established by the Native Americans to navigate through the county. One way that people could ensure a road that ran to their property was to propose said road to the county and pay for it. Neighbors would  occasionally get together to accomplish this goal. Many of the major routes throughout Warren County were established this very way.

Warren County Records Center & Archives has a book with a map collection of proposed free pikes within the county from the late 1800’s. The maps themselves are hand drawn and hand painted with extraordinary detail. They provide us with a snapshot of how the residents and county officials envisioned progress within the county. In addition to documenting potential progress these maps can be utilized for analyzing current progress, genealogical information, and change in the natural landscape as a result of progress. No matter the end use, these maps are beautiful and provide researchers with a rich opportunity to examine primary documents at their finest.

Map - Lebanon and Deerfield Turnpike

Lebanon and Deerfield Turnpike

Map - Halls Creek Free Pike

Halls Creek Free Pike

Map - Williams Road Improvement

Plat of The Williams Road Improvement

Happy Veterans Day!!

In 1938, November 11th officially became the federal holiday known as Armistice Day. It was originally commemorated to honor those soldiers who had served in World War I. Following World War II and the Korean War the holiday was renamed Veterans Day. In celebration of Veterans Day we have decided to honor past Warren County veterans by sharing stories that have been uncovered about them in our records.

The first of these stories is that of Isaac Beller who fought in the War of 1812. Isaac’s story was discovered by intern Tori Roberts when she came across a receipt of a land warrant sale,mixed in with an unrelated estate file. During her research to uncover who Isaac Beller was, Tori  pieced together many details from his life that would have otherwise gone unknown. Isaac Beller was born in Berkeley, WV to Jacob and Elizabeth Beller in 1787 and had a brother named Peter. Isaac and his brother relocated to Warren County and both served in the military during the War of 1812. As payment for his service Isaac was awarded a land grant of 80 acres located in Iowa. Unfortunately at some point following the war Isaac was declared an insane pauper, admitted to the Warren County Infirmary, and was appointed William Frost as his guardian. Aided by his guardian, Isaac was required to sell the acreage he had earned in order to support himself. During the early 1900’s the records from the Warren County Infirmary were destroyed and therefore we are unable to determine what ultimately happened to Isaac.


Isaac Beller’s Notice of Sale of Land Warrant, Probate Court Civil Records Box 1 Page 14, 1853

The second veterans story we uncovered within our records is that of Christian Staley. Christian, a German immigrant, was enlisted in the 8th Regiment of the United States Infantry around May 12, 1848 until he was honorably discharged on September 28, 1848. Because of his military service, Christian was not required to produce a certificate to become fully naturalized. He fought for his new country and was not officially naturalized until 1880. Prior to his naturalization Christian was given the Soldier’s Certificate of Citizenship, showing he was a soldier.

Christian was given the Soldier’s Certificate of Citizenship, showing he was a soldier before obtaining full citizenship. This record shows he is an official citizen of the United States and is dated the same date as his other naturalization paperwork.

Christian Staley’s Soldier’s Certificate of Citizenship, 1880

Christian Staley, a German immigrant, was enlisted in the 8th Regiment of the United States Infantry around May 12, 1848 until he was honorably discharged on September 28, 1848. Because of his military service, Christian was not required to produce a certificate to become fully naturalized. He fought for his new country and was not officially naturalized until 1880.

Christian Staley’s Naturalization Paperwork, 1880

Death Records and their Usefulness as a Research Tool

The idea of being able to use death records for research can be a morbid thought. The fact of the matter is that there is an abundance of useful information that exists within these records. First off there are numerous types of death records. For Warren County we have three types available to the general public for research: Statement & Report of Deaths by township 1885-1908, Death Records 1867-1908, and Coroners Inquests 1873-1908.

Death records can be a great place to start researching family history because they can be one of the most comprehensive record of information about the person when they passed. The death record index and Statement & Report of Deaths typically includes the following information: name, date of death, condition (married, single, widowed), age, place of death, place of birth, occupation, father & mother’s names, race, cause of death, place of residence, and who reported the death. Having all of this information in one place can easily direct researchers to their next destination of records. For instance if you know your great grandmother passed away in Warren County but are unsure of her place of birth these records can provide that information. Another useful type of family research that can be obtained from these records is family medical history.  You can track such genetic health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer, etc.

Tracking the causes of death within a county is fascinating, especially if you survey this information chronologically. The causes of death become more detailed and complex as medical knowledge advanced throughout the decades. In one year you could have the cause of death listed as “kidney disease” and a few years later it is listed as “Bright’s Disease” which shows the isolation of a  type of kidney disease. You can also track the transition of what certain illnesses were reported, i.e. when influenza was previously listed as La Grippe. This also varied according to the physician or individual who reported the death. The introduction of new technology also introduced new causes of death such as “killed by cars” or “killed on railroad”.

The images below represent examples of how these records can be used. The first images include a township that kept useful comprehensive records with all of the requested information. In the next 2 images these show the first recorded death by “flux” also known as “dysentery” in the year 1868. Following this initial case there were 28 sub sequential deaths caused by the spread of dysentery throughout the county.


Salem Township Statement of Deaths, 1887


Salem Township Statement of Deaths, 1887


Salem Township Statement of Deaths, 1887


Warren County Death Record, 1867-1881


Warren County Death Record, 1867-1888

WANTED: Roosa Family Murderer, $1,000 Reward

On December 26, 1864, Warren County’s Roosa family experienced a crime so heinous that it resulted in the first and only execution to take place in the County’s history. Mrs. Roosa, her children, and their farm hand were all fast asleep in their beds on that cold December evening. Their slumber was short lived when an intruder with an ax began attacking them room by room. The farm hand, Jesse Couzens, was the first to suffer blows from the murderers ax followed by Mrs. Roosa and three of her young children. Only one child, 7 year old Jeanette, managed to remain unharmed by hiding under her bed covers. All of the victims were found dead the following day except for Mrs. Roosa, who had survived multiple ax wounds to the head.

Due to the lack of evidence and no suspects, Warren County residents were fearful for their lives. These circumstances led Warren County Commissioners to offer an official reward totaling $1,000 for the capture of the murderer or murderers. This reward is one of the first documented in the Warren County Commissioners Minute books. Following a lengthy investigation that included multiple suspects, Samuel Coovert was convicted and sentenced to death. Although he asserted his innocence up until his death, Coovert was hanged on August 24, 1866, for those crimes committed against the Roosa household. County documents, such as case files and commissioners minutes, have been utilized by many researchers who continue to tell this gruesome tale, including a book titled Murder Most Foul: Massacre in Warren County written by Robert L. Drake, 2009.

Roosa Murders -0003

Commissioners Minutes Volume 9, page 208 from 1864

Roosa Murders -0001

Commissioners Minutes Volume 9, page 209 from 1864

Roosa Murders -0002

Commissioners Minutes Volume 9, page 252 from 1866

Time Capsule Discovered! Read All About It!

Today marks the 99th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the old Warren County Infirmary building, which now houses the Warren County Health Department. On August 17, 2015 the Records Center and Archives completed a new exhibit highlighting the history of the old Infirmary. While conducting research I found an entry from the Commissioners Journals appointing J.A. Runyan, a member of the Infirmary Building Commission, to purchase a box and to procure the necessary records and matters for the laying of the corner stone. I thought to myself that this must mean there is a time capsule in the building! Unfortunately there were no follow up entries in the journals detailing whether the time capsule existed or when it would have been sealed within the corner stone.

Moving on with my research I was able to find an article from the Western Star with all of the missing information. The article details that there was a small informal ceremony on September 2, 1916, in which the Building Commission, the Superintendent & family, and other interested spectators placed a “treasure box” within the corner stone.

As an archivist it was thrilling to discover a missing piece of Warren County’s history. The Records Center and Archives staff met with the Warren County Commissioners on August 11, 2015 to propose the opening of the time capsule. It was agreed upon that a committee will be formed in order to confirm the existence of the time capsule, to organize the opening of the time capsule, and to gather items from throughout the Warren County departments to replace the 1916 time capsule. The ceremony to extract and open the time capsule is currently scheduled on the 100th anniversary, Friday September 2, 2016. Be sure to check out the new exhibit and look for addition information to come!           -Written by Jenifer Baker, Deputy Archivist

Commissioner Time Capsule0006_cropped

Commissioners Minutes Volume 26, page 40 from 1916

Corner Stone Newspaper0004_cropped

The Western Star, September 7, 1916

Fascinating Finds at the Archives

At a county records center you expect to find Common Pleas, Probate, and Clerk of Courts records.  While these types of records are interesting on their own, hidden treasures lurk within the files.  Below are a few fascinating finds discovered by intern Tori Roberts while processing records this summer.

A $5 bill from September, 1819.

A $5 bill from September, 1819.

Customer testimonies for Dr. Bateman's Pectoral Drops.

Customer testimonies for Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops, made mostly with opium.

Poem that bound together Catherine Thompson's estate inventory list.

Poem that bound together Catherine Thompson’s estate inventory list.

Poem that bound together Jacob Christman's estate inventory list.

Poem that bound together Jacob Christman’s estate inventory list.

Phonetic Longhand Letter Paper from 1852.

Phonetic Longhand Letter Paper from 1852.

Gambling…not always fun and games

What gambling games were popular in the 1800s?

The 19th Century was an interesting time for gambling in the United States. Gambling became a part of the frontier lifestyle during the early 1800s, though many opposed it and saw it as immoral and bad for society. Lotteries were prohibited in most states by the 1840s, which lead to the creation of illegal lotteries. The expansion of the western frontier spurred a second wave of gambling in the United States. The Gold Rush set off the gambling boom as miners naturally valued risk-taking and an opportunity for wealth. Again, gambling was tied to social ills and professional gamblers were targeted in California, driving gambling games underground. Lotteries returned in the South as a way to make profit after the Civil War, but scandals and antigaming sentiment led to additional legislation against them. By 1910, virtually all forms of gambling were prohibited in the U.S. Today, most states allow charitable gambling and lotteries. Ohio passed Issue 3 in 2009 legalizing casinos, which brought the Miami Valley Gaming Racino to Warren County in 2013. Many states still prohibit Commercial, Tribal, and Racetrack casinos.

Despite regulations against gambling, many Warren County citizens still participated in the act. At the Records Center and Archives, we find evidence of citizens getting in legal trouble for gambling often in our Clerk of Court State Records. The games they were caught betting on vary, some of which are more common today than others. Below are some of the gambling games and records Archival Intern Tori Roberts found while processing.

Hustlecap/Hustle-cap—a game of pitch and toss in which coins are shaken in a cap.

Hustle Cap

Hustle cap, Joseph Mounts, et al, State Record B, Box 7, Folder 1

Shuffleboard—a game played by pushing disks with a long-handled cue over a marked surface.

Raffle—a gambling competition in which people obtain numbered tickets, each ticket having the chance of winning a prize.

Loo—or lanterloo, is a 17th-century trick taking game of the Trump family of which many varieties are recorded. It belongs to a line of card games whose members include Nap, Euchre, and Spoil Five. It is considered a modification of the game of “All Fours”, in which players replenish their hands after each round by drawing a new card from the pack.

Loo, David Ulery/Ullery, State Record C, Box 12, Folder 5

Loo, David Ulery/Ullery, State Record C, Box 12, Folder 5

Dice—games that use or incorporate one or more dice as their sole or central component, usually as a random device.

Chequers (UK) or Checkers—a group of strategy board games for two players which involve diagonal moves of uniform game pieces and mandatory captures by jumping over opponent pieces.

Roulette—a game of chance named after the French word meaning little wheel where players place bets on either a single number or a range of numbers, the colors red or black, or whether the number is odd or even.

Nine Pins—a British game similar to bowling, using nine wooden pins and played in an alley.

Nine pins, Charles H. Abbey, State Record 4, Box 15, Folder 5

Nine pins, Charles H. Abbey, State Record 4, Box 15, Folder 5

Poker—a family of gambling card games that involve betting and individual play, whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of players’ cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game.

Three up—a low gambling game played by tossing up three coins.

Seven Up—a short trick-taking game played by two players. The goal of the game is to accumulate points based on taking certain tricks in the game. Each hand is only played with six cards and the point total that a player has to reach is seven points.

Seven up (cards), Thomas Hopkins, State Record 4, Box 13, Folder 2

Seven up (cards), Thomas Hopkins, State Record 4, Box 13, Folder 2

Chucker-luck—also known as Bird Cage, Chuck Luck, ChuckaLuck, Chuck, this is a banking game related to Grand Hazard. The operator usually rolls the dice in a special chuck cage (an hour glass shaped wire cage that rotates) and provides a layout with the numbers 1 to 6 on it for players to place their bets.

Trivia Question: What game above was determined by trial to be a game of skill, not a game of chance in 1848? The answer will be revealed next post!

Answer to July 27th question: The Northwest Territory, Virginia Military Lands, and the Symmes’ Patent.

Warren County: Then & Now

Just how much has Warren County changed in 159 years?

On a map today, we might see interstate highways, large urban centers, and various other indicators of modern life.  While cities and modes of transportation can be found on most county maps, they will look much different on a map from over 100 years ago.  The 1856 map of Warren County is a great example of community growth and infrastructure development, just over 50 years after the county was established in 1803.  This map shows the numerous canals and railroads running through the county, some of which became very important modes of transportation in Southwest Ohio. It also shows which cities were present in 1856, many of which still stand today and have been flourishing ever since. Compare the 1856 map of Warren County to the current map below.  What else has changed or developed overtime?  Let us know what you think in the comment section!

Map of Warren County in 1856

Map of Warren County in 1856

A scalable 1856 digital map can be found on the Library of Congress website.


A modern map of Warren County

A modern map of Warren County


Visit the Warren County GIS website to view a scalable map of Warren County and surrounding areas.

You can find county and township maps, detailed blueprints, and more information on county development at the Records Center & Archives.

Trivia Question:  What three different tracks of land formed the territory that became Warren County?  The answer will be revealed next post!

Answer to July 21st question:  The Shakers