Beginning at midnight tonight, the village of Sunbury enters its bicentennial year.
The village was platted on Nov. 9, 1816, by William and Lawrence Myers. Berkshire Corners was the first settlement in Berkshire Township, but it was never platted.
The following text is constructed of direct quotes from “A History of Delaware County and Ohio” published by O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers, in 1880. During the village of Sunbury bicentennial celebration, many modern versions of local history will be quoted. The value of the following is the view of local history assembled at an earlier time, when many circa-1800 early players who settled Sunbury were still alive. The written language of 1880, true to the style of the day, is wordy to say the least. However, for the general reader, a text complete with (brackets) at every change, or, indicating dropped words … or phrases … or sentences … or, even worse, copious footnotes (p.347, line 17) would only represent a difficult read. The sole intention here is to use the words of an earlier popular history to paint simple sketches of life in the founding days of Delaware County. — Lenny Lepola
Sunbury, located southeast of Berkshire Corners and east of the central part of the township, was situated near the conjunction of three counties — Knox, Licking and Delaware, and on the Columbus and Mount Vernon Road, which was for years the only thoroughfare by which to reach the outside world.
It was reasonable to suppose, that, with natural advantages to attract enterprising men, the newly formed village might grow to considerable size and attract to itself the business of that part of the three counties’ which was so remote from any town of considerable size.
It is quite probable that the changes wrought by the substitution of railroads for coach lines has somewhat modified the sanguine expectations of its citizens, but there is still enough truth in the theory of its location to make it now a very active village.
Sunbury, at this writing, is not incorporated. Several efforts have been made to secure its incorporation, but the majority of those to be affected, overawed by fears of the burden of taxation, have opposed the measure.
But the village has not on that account stood still. It has pushed improvements in schools, sidewalks, roads and public buildings, by private subscription, to an extent which reflects the highest credit upon the enterprise of its citizens.
About a year before the town was regularly laid out, the first store in Sunbury was opened by a Mr. Whitmore, from Worthington. He occupied a small brick house which stood on the spot where now stands the residence of Mr. Joseph Letts. He sold goods for a short time only, when he engaged in another enterprise.
Benjamin Webb, who opened up the first regular business in the place, succeeded Mr. Letts. He occupied a small room on the corner of Columbus and Granville streets, and built a house near it. The two buildings have since been united by inclosing the space between them and tearing down partitions, and it is now used as a hotel.
A third store was built by Steven R. Bennett, which was situated diagonally across from Webb’s establishment on the corner of what is now the public square, and occupied the site of the old log schoolhouse — the first one in Sunbury.
Mr. Bennett afterward built another, putting the first store in the rear for a warehouse, which may still be found, occupied by James Stockwell, where it was moved in 1837.
Following close upon the building of the first store was the first tavern. This was a hewed-log building, and was placed on the lot adjoining Webb’s, on the south.
A Mr. Rogers kept hotel and accommodated the traveling public of 1816 with the best that the season afforded. There are those now living in Sunbury who remember the fare set forth in the old hotel, and who do not seem to think that hotel keeping has improved any on the days of the old log house.
In 1820, the stage line bringing more hotel trade to the town naturally built up competition, and Lawrence Meyers put up the hotel which now faces the west side of the square. This was a frame building, and entirely eclipsed the Rogers house. Here the stage stopped, and it finally absorbed so much of the business that its humble competitor, accepting the logic of events, gave up entertaining strangers, and kept boarders at $1.25 a week.
About this time, B.H. Taylor and B. Chase built a fulling mill, provided with apparatus for carding and pressing. The motor power was a tread-wheel worked by oxen. The establishment of this mill was a piece of enterprise which did much to stimulate the growth of the village. The people then made all their own flannel, but it needed fulling, carding, and pressing before it was merchantable. This was the only mill of the kind for miles about, and naturally attracted a good deal of business to the town.
Another old landmark is the old hewed-log schoolhouse, which stood on the southwest corner of the square. This was the first institution of the kind built in Sunbury, and served the public until 1831, when it was removed, and its successor built on the east side of the square.
The new schoolhouse was about 20 by 30 feet, built of brick made by Rufus Atherton, on the place now known as the Widow Grist farm. This building served the community as schoolhouse and church for sixteen years.
Under its sheltering roof the citizens of Sunbury became a cosmopolite in religious matters. Here the Methodist, the Universalist, the Baptist, the Presbyterian, the Episcopalian, the New Light, and the Mormon worshiped in his own way, “… with none to molest or make him afraid.”
In 1847 it was replaced by a wooden structure, 24 by 60 feet, which still remains.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093