The History of Columbia Township
In 1786, after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, the State of Connecticut ceded to the new federal government of the United State those western lands which had been part of its original royal charter, retaining only a portion in present northeastern Ohio. Called the Western Reserve, Connecticut withheld this land as an incentive to their men who signed up to fight the British during the war. The reserve, stretching a120 miles west from the Pennsylvania line, was bounded on the north by Lake Erie and on the south by the forty-first parallel.
In the spring of 1807, a group of men from Waterbury, Connecticut pooled their funds and formed the Waterbury Land Company in order to participate in a complicated lottery to purchase an entire township in the Western Reserve. On April 4, 1807, they drew, by lot, the future “Columbia Township” southwest of Cleveland.
Bronson House Museum
Columbia Township has been continuously inhabited since 1807, the longest settlement in the Western Reserve west of the Cuyahoga River. It has other firsts in the Western Reserve west of the Cuyahoga: the first classroom (Bronson cabin, summer of 1808), first teacher (Sally Bronson, 1808), first white child born (Sally Hoadley), first gristmill (summer of 1809), first cemetery (1811), first doctor (Zephaniah Potter, 1809), and first organized church society (Episcopalian, 1809).
The Bronson House Museum (built c. 1850, 13646 W River Road) is the last home of Sally Bronson. Other Columbia Township buildings in the National Register of Historic Places include the Columbia Town Hall and the Columbia Baptist Church.
The First Settlers
Leaving Waterbury in September 1807, the first group of thirty-three pioneers reached Cleveland in late November. While most of the new settlers wintered over in Cleveland, a hardy few set off for the township. With a sled pulled by oxen, Levi Bronson, Jared Pritchard, John Williams, Silas Hoadley, and Bela Bronson, with his wife Sally, and their eight month-old son Sherlock, set off through the winter landscape, made the trip in eight days. While the men bushwhacked a road through the forest, Sally cooked for them long the way. The trip was completed in eight days.
Three cabins were built by Christmas; and it is said that the only shelter the young Bronson family at night until work on their home was completed was the box of the sled turned up against a tree. The second family to settle in Columbia was that of John Williams in January 1808. Calvin Hoadley’s family followed in March. By the summer on 1808, axes were ringing in ten more clearings, and ten more cabins rose in the forest.
From the beginning, our forefathers seem to have had the assortment of skills needed to create and sustain a viable community. Sally Bronson, that first summer, set up school in her cabin. She had ten students. Church services were not neglected. Among settlers were numbered carpenters, millers, a mechanic, a doctor, a tanner/shoe-maker and a blacksmith. Of course, each farmstead had its own logger, farmer, furniture maker, weaver and tailor, candle and soap maker, blessed with varying degrees of competence.