Rattlesnakes at Old Woman Creek

 

One of my favorite stories from early Milan is when F. W. Fowler first came to this area in 1810 as part of the group working on the Abbott farm land. In early September of that year, he was hired as a laborer by John Wallworth who was building the first “grist mill” in the Firelands, near the center of Eldridge Township (now Berlin Township).

We began this story with Fowler, dressed in his hiking clothes which included buckskin pantaloons for trousers and shupack moccasins on his feet, hiking south from Abbot's Settlement* through the woods following specific marks on the trees to guide him to the grist mill site. He was wearing this outfit to protect him from pine needles and reptiles in the area. But before he started there was a heavy rain the day before and because he was walking through the woods with tall grass and herbage, he was soon as wet as if he had waded in the creek.

He finally came to a clearing beside Old Woman Creek and followed the creek on the east bank and hoping he was nearing the mill site. The ground was muddy beside the creek and his shupacks kept falling off his feet. This was slowing his progress, so he finally took them off, continued walking for a while and then jumped on a log and yelled out hoping that he was near the location. Another voice came back to him from the west side of the creek and he knew he was near the mill location so in his exuberant state, he jumped off the log to go in the direction of the voice, but he landed on a large rattlesnake who was as surprised as Fowler and probably just as frightened. Fowler froze for a moment standing on the snake but when he heard the deathly rattle from the snake, survival overtook him and he killed the snake. And you would think that was enough of a scare to make a man want to avoid snakes, but this story is just beginning.

There were two men working at the site beside Fowler, Perez Starr (who had answered Fowler's shout) and a man known as Seymour and they were the millwrights and between the three of them, they started to build the mill. After the first week of work, resting on Sunday, Seymour and Fowler decided to hunt for a bee tree near the camp. In hunting for the insect tree, they came across an old Chestnut log on which laid a rattlesnake which they promptly killed. However, they heard a muffled rattle inside the log but they couldn’t reach the snake to pull it out, so they cut off a section of the tree to reach the other rattlesnake inside the tree. Unfortunately, what they found was a nest of very pregnant rattlesnakes. When they finished killing all the snakes they laid them on the ground to count out how many they had killed which totaled forty-nine rattlesnakes, many about to give birth to baby snakes. They thought that they finally had the rattlesnake population under control and could build the mill without interference from reptiles, or at least rattlesnakes.  

Unfortunately, they were wrong. The four people (including Seymour's wife who cooked for them) lived in a bark shanty that protected them from the elements. One stormy night, as they were sleeping in the shanty, a rattlesnake came in from the storm and curled up under a straw filled pillow that Fowler and Starr were using as they sleep on the floor. The first person that rolled over got a distinctive rattle and both jumped away from the pillow and proceeded to kill the snake. They now knew that they still hadn't got rid of the rattlesnakes in the area, so in the morning they decided to search the area for more rattlesnakes. Across the creek they found a den of rattlers directly across from the mill they were building. They really had no choice but to declare war on the snakes and by the time they finished cleaning out the den of snakes, they had killed over 300 rattlesnakes.

In the two months that Fowler worked at building the grist mill, he was directly involved with killing over 350 rattlesnakes beside Old Woman Creek. Fowler left in November to return to Abbot's Settlement* and the grist mill (shown in historic photo at the right) was completed and opened in January of 1811.

John Wallworth sold the mill to John Thompson and then he re-sold to the Hill family who converted it to a water mill and operated it for over 100 years supplying lumber to this area. The mill is no longer in existence. However, the stone support legs are still standing in the scenic valley beside Old Woman Creek in Berlin Heights, south of the Ohio Turnpike on the west side of Berlin Road.

 

Photo courtesy of Berlin Heights Historical Society

Source Material: The Firelands Pioneer, November 1858, Memoirs of Milan Township by F. W. Fowler - Page 29  

 

* Abbot’s Settlement: When David Abbot purchased 1800 acres on both sides of the Huron River, this area was part of Avery Township (now known as Milan Township – part of Section Two) which was on both sides of now Mason Road.  Later, Abbot submitted to the recorder’s office a “Town of Huron” which was on the east side of the river and this area became briefly the County Seat on Huron Township until it was moved to Norwalk in 1818. Abbot’s Settlement is also known with historians as Abbott’s Settlement, Avery Twp, Huron, Avery (there is no record of changing the name from Huron to Avery) and the old county seat. The old town of Huron/Avery are gone today and they have no relationship to the current towns of Huron or Avery in Northern Ohio today.

 

Milan Pioneer Stories

Rattlesnakes at Old Women Creek

Justice at the Old County Seat

 The Tragic Story of Return Ward

 

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This Page Last Updated: 08/27/2015

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