1814 was a good year in our history. The War of 1812, another tangle with the British Empire, came to a close with the United States on top. A man named Francis Scott Key penned a patriotic poem while witnessing one of the closing battles of the war. It would later be set to music and become our national anthem–The Star Spangled Banner. And on the western frontier, civilization was slowly beginning to take shape in the form of fledgling states, counties, and tiny towns.
From McDonough to Munson
Late in the year, Lemuel Punderson, first settler of Newbury and agent for the Connecticut Land Company, was called on by three men from Meadville, Pennsylvania. The trio, with the names Crary, Hotchkiss, and Beane, wished to purchase a tract of land. They wound up spending $12,903.23 on 7,000 acres north of Newbury. The Battle of Lake Champlain had recently been won, and the men decided to name their new properties after the hero of that skirmish–Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough. McDonough (spelled in the histories a little differently than the Commandant’s name) was surveyed in 1816. Its first settler was one Samuel Hopson in that same year, making it the second to last township to be permanently occupied in the county. Hopson erected his cabin in the vicinity of the present-day intersection of Rockhaven and Wye Roads. Soon to follow was Lemuel Rider from Vermont. He purchased 600 acres on the northern edge and eventually set up a grist mill and carding machine.
Due to its rugged terrain and vast woodlands, McDonough was slow to settle. In 1817, the Geauga County Commissioners decided to incorporate McDonough with a town to the east called Canton (now known as Claridon…..Did you see my article ‘What’s In a Name’ and called the new town Burlington. An unintended consequence of this move was that it became more difficult to obtain clear title to lands in the old McDonough and caused so much frustration toward the town’s owners that, at the raising of the first barn in the township, a spontaneous meeting developed. The final result was not without some dissent, but a consensus was reached and a petition sent to the county commissioners. The petition was approved and April 16, 1821 was set aside for the first elections of the newly-formed township. And the new name? Munson.
Now, hopefully you noticed the slight spelling mishap that occurred with the first title of the town. Why should this be of any significance? It is worthy of note because the current name is misspelled as well. The present moniker was given by a Mrs. Hovey (for whose family the first barn was erected) and was suggested at that barn raising that broke out in a covert town meeting. Mrs. Hovey was very homesick for her family’s former town—which was Monson, Massachusetts. There are a few plausible theories of how the ‘O’ became a ‘U’—incorrect spelling, illegible handwriting, or even a botched translation of the New England accent. Whatever the reason, Munson, Ohio was born and became a town named with a misspelling…..twice.
Munson had many mills of varying tasks throughout its history due to the several creeks and tributaries of the Chagrin River that flow within its borders. Undeniably, the most well-known of these is a grist mill still operating today. Two brothers, Hiram and Milo Fowler, moved to Munson in 1828. As the story goes, the woods were so dense that the brothers cut their own road from Munson Center to their newly-purchased property on the Chagrin. The pair wasted no time building a sawmill, finishing in 1829. Soon after, in 1833, they erected a large red grist mill, and Fowler’s Mill was born.
Since its creation, the mill has had several owners and many modifications. As the mill flourished, so did the surrounding area. Several other businesses were established along with a post office. The area is still known as Fowler’s Mills today. The mill has been in the hands of Rick and Billie Erickson since 1985, milling grains in basically the same way the Fowler brothers did. To learn more about Fowler’s Mill, make sure to stop by the website.
Bass Lake, originally known as Munson Pond, is one of the township’s many beautiful natural features. The 160-acre body of water was well-known before the first settlers ever appeared. In the Pioneer and General History of Geauga County, Ohio, it is mentioned that many Native American relics have been found on the shores through the years. In the 1870s, a hotel called The Bass Lake House was developed on the west side of the lake and was a favorite resort for picnics, reunions, and other gatherings. It burned to the ground in 1897, was replaced, but burned again in 1907. In 1917 and 1918, The Bass Lake Investment Company subdivided and sold 284 lots on the northwest side of the lake. Summer and vacation cottages were constructed, and the Bass Lake Community took shape. Through the latter part of the century, cottages were renovated or demolished, and the community became one of permanent residences. In early 2003, the Geauga Park District took ownership of the lake and a surrounding 606 acres and created Bass Lake Preserve. The park provides protection for the unique lake and surrounding bogs as well as Spring Brook Sanctuary, a State Nature Preserve that protects Ohio’s last known indigenous population of brook trout .
Munson can also boast a couple of firsts—the first cheese house in Ohio was built there in 1859, and on May 4, 1948, the town voted into existence the first rural zoning ordinance in the state.