Madison County History and Genealogy

History and Genealogy

History of Madison County

Doings of Council in Days Gone By

From History of Madison County, Ohio, Chester E. Bryan, Supervising Editor, B.F. Bowen & Co., Indianapolis (1915)

By A. T. Cordray

The council is the local law-making body. There can be no council until there is an incorporated village. By an act of the Ohio Legislature, passed February 16, 1810, to go into effect March 1, 1811, three commissioners, Peter Light, Allen Trimble and Lewis Newsome, were appointed to select a location for the county seat of this [Madison] county. These commissioners were to make a report of their proceedings to the court of Common pleas of Franklin county. The commissioners made careful examination of different localities in the county and finally, April 9th, 1811, decided to buy one hundred acres of land of John Murfin. The commissioners made their report and appointed Patrick McLene, director, to lay off a town on the Murfin land and to call it London. The plot was recorded in September, 1811. Lots Nos. 9 and 10 were reserved for a court house and jail and two other lots were reserved for churches. One lot where John Murfin's cabin stood, where the Peirce Lumber Company's yards now are, and one for a cemetery, were also reserved. The land purchased was one hundred and three and three-fourths acres, and the price, four hundred and fifteen dollars. There were one hundred and twenty-eight in-lots and twenty out-lots. The lots were sold by Patrick McLene, director. Before a court house was built here, court was held at the home of Thomas Gwynne.

London was incorporated on February 10th, 1831. In accordance with the provisions of an act of the Legislature for the incorporation of the town of London, the first election in said town to choose officers was held at the court house on the 9th of April, 1831. David Reeves, John B. Croney and James M. Thompson were chosen judges and Peter Smith and Daniel. R. Ferguson were chosen clerks of said election. The officers to be elected were a president and five other members of council, a recorder, now termed clerk, and a marshal. Patrick McLene was elected first president of the council, and P. Smith, recorder. The other members of the council elected were S. Watson, A. Winchester, William Jones, S. N. Kerr and A. Toland. David Reeves was elected marshal.

The following is a copy of the order for the first meeting of council:

"London, April 22, 1831."

"Ordered that the trustees or common council of the corporation of the town of London meet the 23d inst., at 3 o'clock, p. m., at the office of P. McLene in said town of London.
F. McLENE, President."


At this first meeting, S. N. Kerr was appointed supervisor; J. B. Croney, treasurer; W. Jones and A. Toland, a committee to "drafts a bill regulating swine;" P. Smith and A. Winchester, a committee to "draft a bill for taxing dogs." This was all the business transacted at the first meeting. At the next meeting, the coMmittees appointed to draft bills regulating swine and taxing dogs reported progress and obtained further time to report. At this meeting the council passed its first ordinance, one to require, "That every able-bodied elector is required and shall be liable to perform and do yearly and every year two days labor on the streets, alleys and highways who shall have resided ten days within the corporation of said town of London next preceding such requisition of said corporation." There are six closely written pages of this ordinance and from the exquisite care used to frame the law so that no one of the class could possibly escape performing the two days labor, by any means whatever, one must reach the conclusion that the observation attributed to the Indian that "White man is mighty uncertain," was at least as true in those days as it is now. At the first half dozen meetings of the council other ordinances were passed "regulating groceries," "requiring the removal of dead animals from the corporation," and "to prevent the pollution of the streams of said village," "to prevent dogs with hydrophobia from running at large," "to regulate the streets and alleys in said village," "regulating public shows." "for the prevention and suppression of nuisances," etc.

The following, copied from the minutes of the second meeting of the council, shows the method of procedure in those days, and a copy in full of the second ordinance passed in this village:

"London, May 17, 1831.

"The Common Council of the town of London met at P. McLene's ofFice agreeable to an order from the president.

"The committee appointed to draught a bill for levying a tax on dogs reported that it is inexpedient to pass an ordinance on that subject at present.

"On motion made and seconded, the following ordinance was passed:

"An Ordinance of the Common Council Regulating Groceries:

"Be it ordained and enacted by the common council of the town of London:

"Sec. 1st. That the president of the common council of the town of London be, and he is hereby authorized, upon application for that purpose, to grant a license to any person for one year to keep a grocery and retail spirituous liquors in any part of the incorporation of said town on the payment of the sum of ten dollars per annum; which sum shall be paid into the treasury of the incorporation for the use of same and shall be subject to the order of the common council.

"Sec. 2d. That all applications as aforesaid shall be made by petition subscribed by at least twelve respectable householders of the incorporation. And before granting said license, the president shall be satisfied that said applicant or applicants has or have ten days' notice by posting advertisements of his or her intention to apply for such license specifying the time of application in the public places within the limits of such corporation.

"Sec. 3d. That if any person or persons shall keep a grocery and sell spirituous liquors to he drank where sold in said incorporation, without first having obtained license agreeably to the provisions of these ordinances, shall forfeit and pay not less than ten nor more than thirty dollars to be recovered by an action for money had and received for the use of said corporation, before the president, and in case of inability, then before the recorder, at the suit of the treasurer; and the treasurer is hereby authorized and required to bring and prosecute said suit. Provided all suits instituted under the provisions of these ordinances shall be brought in the name of the common council.

"Sec. 4th. That if any person or persons licensed agreeably to the provisions of these ordinances shall suffer or permit rioting, drunkenness or gambling in his or their grocery, he or they shall forfeit and pay for every such offense a sum not less than one dollar or more than fifty dollars, to be recovered and paid over in the same manner and for the same purpose and use as it provided by the preceding section of these ordinances.

"Sec. 5th. That it is largely made the duty of the treasurer to inquire into and prosecute all suits for the recovery of any forfeiture under the provisions of this act.

"These ordinances to take effect and be in force from and after the 26th day of this inst. May 16, 1831.

"Ordered by the common council the day and year above written that the above ordinances be published at length on the door of the court house, in the town of London, ten days before taking effect of same.

"P. Smith, Recorder. P. McLene, President."


These proceedings are given verbatim to show what excellent language was used by the men of those days, who had but meager opportunities for an education. The handwriting is beautiful, quaint and legible.

Space will not permit taking up in detail the workings of the many councils of our town. It would be interesting if one of our newspapers would, from time to time, print some of the old ordinances and proceedings of council as are now sometimes printed "From our issue of 42 years ago."

Many of the forefathers of the F. F. V.'s of London took an active part in both making the local laws and in enforcing them. R. A. Harrison and H. W. Smith, two great lawyers, were members of the council at the same time. W. H. Chandler, Sr., was president of the council while George W. Wilson was clerk. Mr. Wilson was also clerk during the terms of M. L. Bryan and O. P. Crabb as mayors. W. H. Squires, Henry Warner, Amos G. Thompson, Nathan Bond, B. Custer, S. Watson, John Jones, John Dungan, Wm. Farrar, E. J. Gould, Charles Gu1cher, Philip Speasmaker, Dr. Toland Jones, George W. Lohr, Robert Rea, Valentine Bauer, Jeriah Sweetland, George Ronemus, E. R. Watts, A. Duncan, S. H. Cartzdafner, William A. Neff, J. C. Bridgman, James Ryan and Richard Peard are some of the members who have served in the council in years long past.

In looking over the minutes of the proceedings of the council from the first down to the present, one must be impressed with the evident sincerity of purpose of those public servants. The councils seem to have been more precise in all their deliberations and business transactions in the early years of the village than are councils in later years. The people had not so many things to engage their time and attention then and life had not become so strenuous. One could hardly imagine the Hon. R. A. Harrison acting as village clerk in the last twenty years of his remarkably successful life. But as recorder of our village, performing his services gratuitously, his records show the same painstaking care as he afterwards used in drawing pleadings in important cases.


The council is many times severely criticised and some members permitted to serve but a single term in this body because the dear people, especially the proletariat, have some real or fancied grievance for some sin of omission or commission. The electors should bear in mind that the councilmen perform thankless service; that, like the choir in the mining camp, they humbly ask the people not to shoot because they do the best they can. They would be thankful for helpful suggestions. Things are many times neglected that should have attention because the people do not notify council of their needs. All should feel more interest in the public business and assist council to come to, correct decisions in important matters. This cannot be done by harsh criticism or meddlesome interference, but by taking time and pains to investigate matters and then as a result to offer helpful suggestions. If every citizen would do his full duty as a citizen, the labor of the council would be greatly simplified.

Many times the work of the council and the expenses of the village are greatly increased by the act or neglect of a class of the citizens and resulting from such act or neglect. criticism does not always settle where it belongs, but frequently on the members of council. So that many times good men are greatly loath to accept a nomination for the office. If the citizens of the village would attend the meetings of council more frequently and observe the great amount of important business transacted there, they would have a higher appreciation of the arduous and responsible labors of this honorable body. Attendance at these meetings would bring about a more intelligent conception of the business of the council and the affairs of the municipality and would result in a greater loyalty and patriotism of the citizenship, a more generous and general commendation of the good things and less reason for criticism of the evil things.


Following is a list of present (1915) officers of the city of London:

Mayor, M. L. Burnham; clerk, John W. Byers; treasurer, O. C. Burris; solicitor, C. C. Crabbe; city engineer, J. H. Asher.

Police Department—Chief, Edward Marshall; night watch, Carl Becker and William Golden.

Fire Department—Chief, John W. Byers; vice-chief, James Goldsberry; driver hose reel, John Gallagher; driver hook and ladder, Harry Turner.

Health Department—Health officer, Dr. Kyle; sanitary police, John Duffey.

Board of Public Affairs—E. R. Schurr, E. B. Pancake, Edward P. Speasmaker.

Park Commissioners—J. R. Atchison, Austin Hutson, George H. Van Wagener.

Public Library Board—J. B. Van Wagener, president; Mrs. Gideon T. Clark, Sr., vice-president; Mrs. Ida White, secretary; R. W. Boyd, treasurer; Chester E. Bryan, Mrs. Sallie Robison.

Street Commissioner and Sewer Inspector—Nathan Vanskoy.

Members of Council—Samuel Ballenger, George W. Carter, Reed Chrisman, H. V. Christopher, Ernest Green and M. B. Cannon. H. V. Christopher, president pro tem.

Standing Committees, first named being chairman—Sewer: Carter, Green, Cannon; Light: Ballenger, Christopher, Chrisman. Fire: Cannon, Ballenger, Green. Finance: Carter, Cannon, Green. Buildings and Grounds: Green, Christopher, Ballenger. Street: Cannon, Carter, Christopher. Bridge: Chrisman, Ballanger, Carter. Health: Christopher, Green, Chrisman. Police: Christopher, Chrisman, Carter. Law and Order: Green, Chrisman, Ballenger. Water: Chrisman, Carter, Cannon. Rules: Ballenger, Cannon, Christopher.

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