Geauga History—When Newbury was New

I am a lucky man. I have spent the majority of my life living in my favorite town, my hometown—Huntsburg. Of the few other places in which I have had the pleasure to reside, Newbury has to be my favorite. The rural character and beauty blends with just the right ratio of commercial convenience to make it a pleasure to live in. Throw in a massive state park and the fact that our apartment was flanked by a big pond to fish in, and I was in my glory.

Two hundred years ago, none of what brought me to love Newbury existed, save one—a big pond. And it was this ‘Big Pond’ that attracted a man by the name of Lemuel Punderson.

Punderson Lake

Lemuel was a native of Connecticut who made the move with his wife to Burton in 1808. As we discovered in my article ‘The Making of Munson“, Lemuel was a land agent of the Western Reserve, and was keenly aware of the large, natural body of water west of town, which he nicknamed ‘The Big Pond’. Later in the year, Punderson partnered with a man named Hickox to build a grist mill, saw mill, and distillery at the foot of the pond. After a disaster with the first dam they built, the wilderness hub was up and running by the year 1810. Soon after, the Punderson family moved west to be near their businesses, and they became known as the first settlers in what would become Newbury.

As with many of our county’s townships, enterprising settlers from the East slowly trickled in and made their claims. Newbury was officially formed in 1817 with the origins of its name not completely clear (there were several towns to the east with names containing ‘Newbury’). As more and more settlers arrived, the town eventually developed four sub-communities—North Newbury, Newbury Center, South Newbury, and Fullertown. Businesses flourished in each of these areas, and each had its own post office.

South Newbury Union Chapel
Photo taken by Chuck Mintz

The year 1856 marked what may have been Newbury’s most significant historical event to date. It was in this year that a teacher at Hiram College was denied the chance to speak in the Congregational Church. The trustees in that day were pious men, and denied this teacher the right to speak in the church because only sermons were to be given there. Some sources say that the real riff was due to a difference of beliefs in baptism. Nonetheless, the decision by the elected officials frustrated many Newbury residents.

They erected a building across the street from the Congregational Church on land donated by Ansel Mathews. It became known as the Union Chapel, and the sermon of dedication was given by that college teacher who went on to become the twentieth president of the United States—James A. Garfield! Many well-known people of that day, including Susan B. Anthony and Louisa May Alcott, spoke here as well. If you want to know more about the Union Chapel, check out this article by fellow Geauga News history writer Trent Ford: ‘South Newbury Union Chapel Becomes National Historical Icon

Across the street from the Chapel stands the mighty Centennial Oak, planted to commemorate our country’s 100th anniversary. Another article by Trent titled ‘The Centennial Oak Tree in South Newbury’ tells the tale of this towering timber.

centennial oak ree

Both of these local landmarks are just south of Newbury’s largest attraction–Punderson Lake. The ‘Big Pond’ is intimately tied to the very beginnings of the township, but its history extends back thousands of years. It is supposed that this 90-acre, over 85-foot deep lake was formed by a receding glacier at the end of the Ice Age. As is the case with what are known as ‘kettle’ lakes, a massive chunk of ice broke off the glacier and upon impact formed Punderson. It is the largest kettle lake in Ohio, and one of the state’s few natural bodies of water. It is said that a Native American settlement once existed on the eastern shore. The modern history of the lake, now a state park, is chronicled in Rachel Hunziker’s story ‘The History of Punderson Manor State Park Lodge’.

Today, visitors to the park can enjoy hiking, boating, swimming, camping, golfing, and even a wonderful dinner at the lodge. It is also worthy to note the frequent hauntings in the manor and surrounding properties. Scores of stories have surfaced over the years, ranging from the sounds of children running and laughing in the halls to an eerie ‘lady of the lake’.

Ty Pilarczyk
Author: Ty Pilarczyk

Ty is the president of the Huntsburg Historical Society, and has lived in Huntsburg most of his life. When he is not designing, installing, and maintaining landscapes for the family construction business, Ty enjoys vegetable gardening, restoring and collecting old pressure lanterns, and spending time with his family.