SOUTH RUSSELL VILLAGE
A Brief History
Patricia and Phillip Wayne Hosmer
Written: Spring - 1992
Russell Township was the last township settled in Geauga County. In 1818, Gideon Russell, wife and children Ebenezer, William, Aipheus, Jemima and Sally moved into the thick woods of township number seven, range nine in the Connecticut Western Reserve on the rudimentary Chillicothe Road a little south of the center of the township. For about two years they were the only inhabitants of Russell, which the people of Newbury called the West Woods. In the fall of 1820, Simeon Norton, wife Sally and daughter Melinda built a split and hewed log house on the north part of the Russell farm. This house was sixty rods or more back from the road near a good spring and not far from the road that had been laid out from Cleveland to Warren and was partially open to travelers. On March 31, 1821, Orson Norton was born, the first known birth in Russell.
The Chillicothe Road (now state route 306) was laid out in 1802 when Chillicothe was the seat of the territorial government of Ohio. General Edward Paine was one of the committee who laid out the road. It began at Painesville and ran through Mentor, Kirtland, Chester and Russell. It was said at the time it followed an Indian trail.
Soule's Corners (Bell Road and Chillicothe Road) received its name from the family of the three brothers, A. L., Myron and Benjamin Soule who came to Russell in 1839 from Onondaga County, New York,
Soule's Corners (Bell Road and Chillicothe Road) looking south|
and built a home near the corners of Chillicothe and Soule's Corners Road (now Bell Road). Later one more road in the area was laid out, McKin1ey, which ran south of Soule's Corners Road to the Bainbridge line and today is Snyder Road.
Population growth was slow in this area, but in 1843 Harry Burnett arrived with his wife and son and built on what is today the "Old Silsby property." Elder Willard, a Baptist minister, owned a farm on Soule's Corners Road about two miles east of the Chagrin line. His young son, Archibald, evidently covered the walls of the home with drawings and paintings, which remained for many years after he sold the property to Isaac Rarick about 1850. We know this precocious boy as the future painter of the most famous American historical painting- the "Spirit of 76". He was fourteen when his father sold the farm.
Several early families have tended to live in their homes for several generations. The Warren Green family lived in the home built by their uncle Isaac Rarick on Bell Road; Green's son lived there until his death around 1948, aged ninety, and Dorothy Green Matthews, son William and daughter Joan (LaRue) also lived in this house. R. Albert Warren, South Russell's first mayor, lived in the house where he had been born for over eighty years before his death in 1960. The house had been built in 1861 by his father, Joel Warren, and was close to the farm where Joel's father, Tabor Warren, settled in 1831. The home was demolished some time after the farm became Chagrin Falls Airport.
The Wilber family lived on property sold to Ithel Wilber, and at the writing of the first village history in 1963, six generations of Wilbers had lived in the beautiful home on Chillicothe Road.
In 1864 Alexander McLaughlin bought land next to the Wilbers and moved into a home that had been built in 1840. In 1940 this became the home of Lillian McLaughlin and Laura McLaughlin Bezdek who were descendants of famous Geauga author and statesman, Albert Gallatin Riddle.
Last of the known names of early settlers is Parley Wilder, who lived to a great age, and built and lived on what was then known as the Silvernail farm.
It was generally believed there was an underground railroad station before the Civil War on the Isaac Rarick farm next to the cemetery on Bell Road. In Rarick's barn was a room hidden where hay was put down for his cows. Rarick would drive to neighboring towns to pick up slaves, place them in the bottom of his wagon and pile a load of hay on top. The slaves were secreted in the hidden room and he would take the wagon to the next farm, owned in 1992 by Eugene Muggleton, leave the wagon, and change his clothes before returning home. The following day the slaves would be driven to the next station on their way to Lake Erie, Canada and freedom. While carpenters were building the R. A. Warren house, one worker, Joseph Harpham related southern planters with bloodhounds came on the premises in search of slaves who were reported in the neighborhood. Neighbors aided the planters in their search by directing them in the opposite direction of the Rarick farm.
General farming seemed to be the occupation of almost all the early settlers. The Union Cheese Factory, built in 1871, was about one mile east of Soule's Corners on the north side of the road. Stockholders were R. U. Roberts, Nark Matthews, Isaac Rarick and others because not one of them could have raised the cost of the building themselves. The first industry in what would become South Russell cost $2,733.72! The cheese produced there sold for five to seven and a half cents a pound. Evidently no record exists of how long this business was in operation.
The building of the Cleveland and Eastern Electric Railway in the 1890's brought many changes to rural Geauga County. The future South Russell laid on and between the two lines going east from Cleveland. Closest to them was the Chagrin Falls, Hiram and Garrettsville division with part of its line along the southern boundary of our village. Remains of the right of way are still visible along Bell Road in Newbury. The northern line was the Gates Mills, Chardon, Burton and Middlefield division. These interurban electric car lines were a great advantage to Geauga farmers, but in little more than twenty-five years they were crowded out by improved roads and that new invention-automobiles and trucks.
Russell Township had nine school districts by the 1880's; two of these were located in what is now our village. School district number two, the Gore, was on the corner of McKinley (Snyder) and Soule's Corner Road (Bell). When this school was no longer needed, the building was moved back and converted into a home by a man named Farmer. In 1930, the Dellners bought the house and later built an addition to the home, which still stands on Bell Road. The second South Russell school was on Chillicothe Road, just north of the corners and was known as district number six. It was first a one-room school and later a two-room school when district number seven building was moved from Walters Road and joined to it. Mr. and Mrs. Truman Hoxter of Chagrin Falls were in command at this school. Their work was highly satisfactory and they were later hired to teach in Russell's centralized school. This building, now converted into a home, is at 5177 Chillicothe Road. Harry Modroo, of the Hemlock Road farm, attended first grade here in 1924-25 before the Russell School building near route 87 was built.
Around 1900 the question of school centralization came up, was voted on by Russell inhabitants, and was defeated. This happened several times and finally in 1923, after a heated campaign, the vote carried. Even then the majority of Russell Board of Education was bitter against centralization and would not vote to issue bonds to build a school. That fall the terms of office of two board members expired and other favorable to the issue were elected, another resigned, and by spring, 1924, the bonds were sold and the building contract let. In the fall of 1925 students began attending the new school. But the damage had been done by the bitterness engendered by the long arguments. The southern part of the township had incorporated early in 1923 as South Russell Village and had asked for annexation to Chagrin Falls School District and had been accepted. South Russell students began attending Chagrin Falls Schools in 1926. Thus South Russell was born in controversy over educational issues, proving that still, as over one hundred years before, people in the Western Reserve considered a good education paramount. After World War II, rapid growth in South Russell led to the opening in 1966 of Gurney Elementary School on Bell Road.
South Russell Cemetery is located on Bell Road, west of Chillicothe Road, One half acre was purchased from S. R. Willard on November 15, 1849, for forty dollars. It was enlarged in 1863 by two rods of property on the south side purchased from Isaac Rarick for ten dollars. Stephen Loesy, who was killed by having a tree fall on him while he was chopping, was the first burial there. This cemetery was the first public burial grounds in Russell. The first few decades of settlement, the few burials occurring were mostly on family burial plots. The last burials were former mayor Charles Reiss and his son David in the 1970's.
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