For thousands of years, prior to the coming of the white man, the Plain City area was a favorite hunting and camping locality for prehistoric Indians. The first human beings here were Indians who traveled along Big Darby Creek Valley just after the retreat of the glaciers over 16,000 years ago. The creek itself is named after Wyandot Indian Chief named Darby.
The Village of Plain City lies in what is known as the Virginia Military District. Jonathan Alder, who was captured by Indians in 1782 at the age of nine, spent his boyhood with them near Zanesfield in Logan County. He lived in a number of places along Big Darby, several of which were in the vicinity of Plain City. One of his cabin sites was along the creek east of the present North Avenue. After having moved several times from lands claimed by the first settlers, Alder finally gained title to the land south of Plain City on Chillicothe Road where his cabin stood for many years.
Isaac Bigelow was born in Saratoga County, New York, on August 25, 1797, the son of Dr. Israel Bigelow. In 1814, at the age of seventeen years, he came on foot to Ohio from Center County, Pennsylvania, to make payment for his father on land purchased from his uncle, Isaac Bigelow, for whom he was named. This was the land on which Plain City now stands. After making payment, he returned to Pennsylvania to study medicine with his father. On July 17, 1815, he married Polly Bigelow, his first cousin, who lived on this newly purchased Ohio land. He returned to Ohio in 1817, a twenty-year old doctor, and settled near Trickle Creek in Champaign County, where he lived for a year. He came to Darby Township in 1818 where he conceived the idea of laying out a new town, and in this year the plat for the Village of Westminster was submitted. At the time Westminster was platted, most of the local area was included in Darby Township. Ohio was a new and rapidly growing state and counties were being formed and reformed as development progressed.
In 1810 Madison County formed and included all of Darby Township and extended into part of what is now Union County. In 1820, Union County consisted of a portion of Madison, Delaware and Logan Counties and land which was formerly Indian Territory. When Union County was formed, the north line of Madison County was moved to its present location. There are no official acts of record for Westminster until 1823. At this date the previous survey was resurveyed and additional territory incorporated. It was also in 1823 that the original name of Westminster was changed to Pleasant Valley.
Growth was slow and uncertain in the early years of Pleasant Valley. The town had the advantage of being located on Post Road, over which many of the early emigrants moved their way west. A log building, surrounded with underbrush and thickets of hazel and plum, served as the first hotel. It was known as the "Travelers Inn". Other businesses sprang up as the town began to develop.
Dr. Isaac Bigelow opened a dry goods and grocery store. James Ewing became the first Postmaster. James Goldsberry operated a blacksmith shop and the first flour mill was put into operation. In 1842, Isaac Bigelow was elected Mayor and by a special act of the Ohio Legislature on February 15 in that year, Pleasant Valley was officially incorporated.
In 1851 a decision to locate a truck line railroad through the Village marked the turning point in the development of the town. It brought the advantages of cheap transportation for the Village and assured its future growth.
During the 1850's, when cries of slavery and abolition were rampant over the nation, Pleasant Valley was an important station on the Underground Railroad, which shuttled slaves northward to Canada. Some of the newly freed people remained here and their descendants still live in the community.
On a cool April night in 1865, the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln passed through Pleasant Valley on its journey to Chicago. Townspeople lighted bonfires along the track in silent tribute to the dead president.
In 1871, there were at least four towns in Ohio named Pleasant Valley. In 1877 the citizens petitioned their State Representative, William Morrow Beach, to introduce a bill in the legislature changing the name of the town to Plain City. Council meetings were first held in the local depot. Much of the Council business was concerned with keeping the streets in good condition. Each citizen was obligated to donate two days work with team and wagons per year or else hire someone to do it for him.
On April 13, 1885, the council determined the “Calaboose” was not suitable for occupancy. Later a brick building was erected just north of the Universalist Church to house the jail, fire equipment, and council rooms. That building is still being used as the Municipal Building today.
Utility changes and progress settled into Plain City in 1883 with the installation of the first streetlights. Charles Ackley lit the 82 coal oil and gasoline lamps for years. He furnished his own fuel and matches and received $52.65 per month. City water was pumped to the flatiron in 1890, and by 1904 the electric plant was in use and water was supplied to 30 hydrants. In the middle fifties the municipal light and power plant, owned by the city for over fifty years, was sold to the Ohio Edison Company. The proceeds were used to improve the water system and build the municipal swimming pool. Central Union Telephone Company was given the right to erect lines.
On November 15, 1902 Uncle Sammy Taylor donated the town clock. Over 3,000 people gathered for the ceremony downtown. A fine opera house was erected on South Gay Street by Sweeney Run and would seat 800 people. In 1912 a tornado blew off the roof and most of the third story. It was sold and used for a furniture store and undertaking business by D.D. Ketch.
By the late 1920’s Plain City had become an important railroad shipping point for livestock. Droves of sheep and cattle were driven through the center of town and down Maple Street (then Railroad Street) to the pens and loading chutes across from the depot.
A three story brick school building was built at 340 West Main Street, with twelve full grades, and served the community from 1891-1936. The original school building was torn down, and a modern building erected in its place in 1936 and 1937. In 1956 the newly constructed Jonathan Alder School district was in operation. The Plain City Elementary School remains on the site today.
In 1959 the Big Darby overflowed and Plain City saw the biggest flood in the history of the town. There was also a major flood in June 1997. On July 12, 1966, a tornado, the first in over fifty years, caused widespread damage. In Pastime Park nearly 100 large oak trees were blown down or damaged, including one giant tree estimated to have been over 150 years old.
Many people have come and gone over the years. Some have made their mark on Plain City and others left little impression. But all of them distinguished or undistinguished have contributed to the total which makes history what it is, the story of Plain City’s past.
* Adapted from the Bicentennial Edition of the Journal-Tribune on Friday, July 2, 1976.