Richland Co., Ohio
source: Mansfield News, 17 October 1903
Submitted by Jean and Faye
History of Richland County
By A J. Baughman
The village of Richland is in Cass township and was laid out in 1837. A number of houses, forming a little village, had been erected there before the town was platted. John Long was the first settler and started a tannery. The Long cabin was on the State road, running from central Ohio through Mansfield to the lake, at its intersection with the road leading from Wooster to the northwest - then commonly called the Beall trail. Houses of public entertainment were called taverns in those days, and at the junction of these roads a tavern had been a necessity long before the town was laid out. The cabin of John Long was the only house at the crossing for sometime, but supply came with the demand, and after the land was platted dwellings and business houses were put up, and the village soon had a population of about two hundred, with taverns, stores and shops to meet the wants of the trade. John Plank, who had the village laid out, kept the principal tavern of the town, and the place was therefore called Planktown, which name it is commonly known by today
At that time the State road was the highway of freight transit between the interior of Ohio and Lake Erie. The port of the lake, after the opening of the Erie canal, were market marts for farm produce. Along this State road through Richland village, teams hauling grain north and merchandise south, passed in great numbers, sometimes as many as two hundred in a day. The village grew quite rapidly for those days, but in 1850, the Cleveland and Columbus railroad was built through Cass township, leaving Richland a mile off its line to the east, and a new town - now called Shiloh - was built at the crossing. Richland then went into decline, and but little is left of the village today.
As narratives of the murders committed at Richland by Return J. M. Ward have been given to the public in newspapers and in pamphlets, it might seem superfluous to repeat the story here. But as those bloody deeds were committed more than fifty years ago, generations have since come upon the stage of life to whom the narrative may be new. Then, too, this historical chapter would not be complete without at least a resume of Ward’s terrible career of crimes. In about 1847, Return J. M. Ward became proprietor of the Eagle House, situated at the northeast corner of Wooster and Norwalk streets. Ward has been described as a large, strong man, with a sinister countenance.
On the south side of Sandusky street, a short distance west of the Eagle House, one Noah Hall kept a store, carrying a line of general merchandise, as was the custom at that time. The store building was an isolated frame structure, with the north end to the street. Hall boarded with Ward, and slept at the rear end of the store. There were no “drummers” on the road in those days, and merchants went east twice a year for goods. In March, 1850, Hall collected money preparatory to going to New York to purchase goods for his spring trade. On the morning of March 18, the little village was startled by the report that Hall had been murdered the night previous. Ward directed suspicion against Daniel A. Myers and Thomas McGarvy, brothers-in-law. As usual, detectives formulated theories and tried to find evidence to sustain them, instead of letting the facts establish a theory and Myers and McGarvy were arrested and indicted on the charge of murder. Persons charged with certain crimes could elect under the old constitution, whether to be tried by the supreme of the common pleas court, and upon being arraigned, April 13, the prisoners chose the latter. They were then remanded to jail and their trial set for the July term. The prisoners elected to be tried separately, and Daniel A. Myers was put on trial for the murder of Noah Hall. William Stevens was prosecuting attorney, and Jacob Brinkerhoff and D. W. Stambaugh represented the prisoners. The trial resulted in a verdict of not guilty, and on July 16, McGarvy was also released and the case dropped from the docket. At the trial of Myers, Return J. M. Ward, the landlord was the principal witness for the prosecution, and the over-zeal he exhibited on the stand to obtain a conviction of the accused caused suspicion to be cast upon himself, which contributed somewhat to the acquittal of Myers. Ward was a too-ready witness, too anxious to convict and his testimony bore earmarks of fabrication.
Sometime after the Hall murder a pack-peddler by the name of Lovejoy put up at Ward’s tavern for the night and as he did not appear at the breakfast table the morning following, Ward in answer to inquiries, stated that the peddler had left early and that seemed to end the matter for a time. It has been thought that Ward’s wife suspected that her husband had murdered the peddler, for she soon afterwards became insane and was sent to an asylum where she died. In a general way the suspicion of the public turned to Ward as the murderer of Noah Hall, but there was not evidence sufficient to place a charge against him in a court of justice. It also became the opinion of the public that the peddler, Lovejoy, had met with foul play at the hands of Ward. The distrust and suspicion of the people became so apparent that Ward left the place and later located in Sylvania, Lucas country, and again married.
It has been written that -“They whose guilt within their bosom lies Imagines every eye beholds their crime.”
And thus it was with Ward, and even the soughing of the winds reminded him of the moans of his victims, and the evening zephyrs seemed to whisper accusations against his guilty soul.
Such simple causes lead to the unmasking of crime, that no matter how its perpetrators may endeavor to hide it, “murder will out.” The blood of Abel crying out against Cain is the type of all murders. The earth refuses to conceal such heinous crimes, and all nature conspires to betray the unlawful shedding of blood. The man who passes from earth in the ordinary course of nature, may be missed and mourned for awhile, but he community yields to the inevitable, for all are born under the sentence of death. Compared with the vast numbers of people who throng the earth, one man is but an atom, a unit of the whole, but as such, hi is under the ever-watchful care of the Father, who gave the command from Mr. Sinai, “Thou shalt do no murder” and who has declared “That vengeance is Mine.” Vice leads to vice and crime begets crime. Ward, having imbrued his hands in human blood, was not satisfied with his Planktown crimes, but added another to the list by murdering his wife, and to conceal the act attempted to cremate her body, which led to his detection. For this murder he was arrested, indicted, tried and convicted, and was hanged at Toledo, Friday, June 12, 1857
Several weeks before his execution, Ward made a confession of the three murders, in brief, as follows: That having access to Noah Hall’s store, he had unfastened the back door during the day, and at midnight, “I left my house, entered the store by the back door and found Hall sleeping soundly. I was armed with a heavy iron poker, large at one end and tapering to a point at the other. Having carefully ascertained Hall’s position, I struck and stuck the point of the poker through his skull, on the left side above this ear, and then gave him a violent blow with the heavy end of the poker upon the top of his head. I then seized his pillow and held it tightly over his mouth, and with the other hand grasped his throat, and choked him until life was extinct.”
Upon searching the premises, Ward obtained over eight hundred dollars in money, which he buried until after the excitement subsided, after which he used the money in small amounts as he needed it.
In Ward’s confession of the murder of the peddler, Lovejoy, he says: “The peddler complained of being tired and retired early. I showed him to his room - a corner room on the second floor. At that time I had no idea of killing him. I awoke about midnight and the thought struck me that the peddler might have money. There was no lock on his door. I got up, went to his room, opened the door softly and found him asleep. The moon was shining in at the window making the room almost as light as day. The temptation to kill him was so irresistible that I went and got an axe and with it dealt him a tremendous blow on the top of his head. He scarcely struggled, and in a few moments was dead.”
How to dispose of the body of the peddler was a question that Ward had not previously considered. He had to act quickly and soon decided to dismember the body and pack the same into a box, which he did, and before the morning dawn, he had the remains boxed up and placed in the cellar. Upon the pretext of going to his father’s in Milan, Ward place the box with its gruesome contents in his wagon the next morning and drove away. That night he dumped the box, heavily weighted, into the Huron river, near Abbott’s bridge, and never heard of if afterwards. For this murder, Ward obtained fifty dollars in money, and such goods from the pack as he could use without creating suspicion against him.
Ward’s mind was capable of planning crimes, and he kept his own counsel, but the curse of Cain was upon him and he could not rest. He changed locations, but the continued fear of exposure, like the fabled sword of Damocles, was ever suspended over him. He could not escape, and the edict. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” was meted out to Ward upon the gallows.
In this series of historical sketches the subject of “good roads” has not heretofore been considered. But as this chapter treats of the county at the intersection of the State road with the Beall trail, the matter will be briefly considered. In everything else the county has progressed marvelously, but with roads there has been but little improvement. The roads in Richland county have been patched up from year to year, and in those seventy-five or eighty years the work and money expended would have made our highways as good and as lasting as were those of Rome, built centuries ago, and which are still in use. It is a matter of poor economy to be annually repairing roads, with the view of having such repairs last only until a new supervisor comes along the next year. Far better and cheaper in the end to make a large outlay for more permanent results. The great National road, was opened in 1818, and notwithstanding the storms and frosts of the eight-five years of its use, its road-bed and its arches are in as good condition today as they were when Henry Clay, Lewis Cass, Thomas H. Benton, William Allen and other statesmen made stage journeys to and from Washington over the National pike, while serving as senators in the congress of the United States.
<< Back to Historical Information Index
<< Back to the Richland Co., Ohio Index