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‘Big Ditch’ part of Findlay history

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

South West Street in Findlay’s early days presented quite a different appearance from the present day.

It was the scene of what was known as “the big ditch.” It was constructed along the west side of the thoroughfare between the Blanchard River and what was known as the south-end swale which was located in the vicinity of Lima and Lincoln streets.

The “ditch” was constructed to relieve a bad situation that prevailed in that general area, in primitive days. Settlers who came to Findlay in the 1820s and 1830s found much of the downtown and nearby areas under water to a considerable extent. Much of the Hancock County area was originally part of the Black Swamp, and this accounted for the Findlay water, which the newcomers found.

The “big ditch,” as it was popularly known, was the first drainage improvement in the community. It provided badly needed relief until the city began to install sewers after the Civil War.

The ditch began at what was known as Washburn’s windmill factory at the southern end of West Street and ran into the river. It has been described as 5 or 6 feet deep and as much as 10 feet in width and was crossed by bridges where necessary.

The first bridge was constructed across the Blanchard River in 1843.

Teams of horses forded the river before the bridge went in, providing the water was not too high. The river in those days carried more water usually than is the case now in non-flood times.

The owners of teams in the old days had their own ways of knowing whether it was safe to drive their horses across. There was a very large stone in the middle of the river. If the water was near the top of this stone, teams could no longer cross.

“The sides of the river,” says an article by Miss Florence Blackford, Findlay newspaper writer in 1898, “both above and below the town were fringed with heavy forests and woods. On the north side was a flouring mill and a sawmill built by John Campbell which was run by water power derived from the river by a dam east of the bridge and a race which crossed Main Street a couple hundred feet north of the present bridge. Just west of where the Flint block now is (just north of the bridge on Main Street) there was a point of land made by the river on one side and the mill race on the other, at the extremity of which grew a very large sycamore tree, the decrepit and melancholy ruins of which remained until the boom of 1887 obliterated so many ancient landmarks.”

Miss Blackford goes on to say that there was a footbridge across the river, probably 100 feet west of Main Street. It was 3 or 4 feet above the level of the water. The bridge was made of slabs furnished by the sawmill nearby. This recalls the footbridge which stood for a number of years across the river at the end of Western Avenue, when the course of the stream was different than is now the case.

In her article, Miss Blackford tells of an interesting incident that involved Peter Byal, who when a boy, found himself on the footbridge, with two daughters of John Line who were accompanying their father over the bridge. The walk was narrow and he proposed to assist the girls.

“When at the most convenient point, young Byal found that it was about time to suddenly have a so-called dizzy spell for the fun of it, after three or four startling exclamations and forgetting to let loose of the girls’ hands, off he tumbled into the water, taking them with him.

“He recovered sufficiently however to lead the young girls, all dripping wet, to the arms of their anxious parent, who was waiting on the shore to wreak vengeance on the young man. The girls, however, interceded and saved him from violence.”

Mr. Byal in later years became janitor of the Findlay High School.

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