by Hal Weiland
source: Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, August 3-4, 2002
In Civil War, Community Became Famous
When it was opened to settlers in 1828, northern Holmes Township was covered with dense forest and soggy marshes. Even the Wyandot Indian Reservation in the western third of the township was sparsely inhabited. There were no roads: Settlers would have to chop their way through the trees and slog through the swamps, forging their own trails to get there.
But in 1830 about 10 families, mostly German immigrants, survived the hardships and set up homesteads near the present site of Brokensword community.
Through their perseverance and hard work a settlement was established and soon Jacob Lintner opened a blacksmith shop, Jacob Moore was producing shoes, William Fralick established himself as a carpenter, William Spitzer hired out for masonry work, David Porter opened an ashery and Samuel Burnison ran a mill and distillery.
The future was so rosy that in 1834 William Wingert, a cabinetmaker, petitioned the U.S. Postal Department to establish a post office in the village. Wingert’s request was granted and a post office opened with Wingert as postmaster.
Then began a long-running argument over naming the settlement; Wingert and his associates, mostly located in Lykens Township, thought the post office should be named “Wingert’s Corners” (sometimes spelled Wingart’s Corners). However, David Porter had commissioned county surveyor George Wiley to lay out a town of sixteen lots on property he owned on the Holmes side of the township border. He called the town “Portersville” and insisted that the post office be named Portersville. Wingert argued that his establishment had been there longer. Porter said yes, but his had been officially surveyed.
The Postal Department eventually sided with Porter and named the post office “Portersville.” The contest wasn’t over yet, however, Wingert and his associates were so persistent in referring to the community as Wingert’s Corners” that is became known as Wingert’s Corners with a post office named Porterville.
By 1846 the settlement boasted a saloon operated by Seale and Hollingshead and a well-managed tavern run by John Stinerock (in those days a tavern rented rooms and provided meals to travelers, not necessarily including “spirits). In 1854 Daniel Fralick opened a general store that operated for many years serving north Holmes and south Lykens townships.
About this time George Quinby (remember the Quinby Block on the square in Bucyrus?) commissioned William Wingert to open a store specializing in furniture.
As the Civil War drew near many people in the Wingert’s Corners area aligned with the “Copperhead Movement,” which sided with the South, being pro-slavery or at least pro-states rights. Wingert’s Corners’ history gets a little foggy at this point, but it is thought that some person there wrote and circulated a petition to have all “Negroes” removed from the State of Ohio. The petition never got off the ground but it attracted the attention of an especially talented local writer who soon put Wingert’s Corners in the national spotlight.
The writer was David Ross Locke, editor of the Bucyrus Weekly Journal from 1858 to 1861. Mr Locke’s sympathy lay with the slaves and his special talent was writing satire. He began writing satirical letters and essays using the pseudonym “Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby.” Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby was a fictitious person living in – you guess it – Wingert’s Corners.
In his satire, Locke presented Nasby as a Copperhead, espousing pro-slavery opinions so ridiculous that they became arguments against slavery. The Nasby material was first printed in the Findlay Jeffersonian and The Toledo Blade papers but soon spread throughout the Union states, putting little Wingert’s Corners on the map.
Nasby’s (Locke’s) writing became a favorite of President Lincoln’s, who was said to insist on reading it to his staff and cabinet members. Locke eventually “relocated” Nasby to a fictitious place he called “Confederit X Roads” in Kentucky but he continued to maintain the Nasby character long after the Civil War and even went on speaking tours with Mark Twain.
After the Civil War, the Portersville post office was renamed “Brokensword” and continued to function until 1906, when Rural Free Delivery mail came to the community. But thanks to the U.S. Postal Department, the village was finally, officially, named Brokensword.
In a letter to the T-F, Mr. Paul Hinzman writes fondly of days he spent with relatives on the Ora Sponseller farm near Broken-sword in the early 1900s. While his father served in World War I, his mother relocated to Brokensword with Paul and his two brothers.
Later, Mr. Hinzman would travel from Cleveland by train to visit his country cousins on the farm. His list of favorite memories will bring a nostalgic smile to the face of anybody who grew up or visited country homes, it includes: Three naked kids in one bed with a straw mattress, swimming in Brokensword Creek, walking the high beams in the barn, making and eating gallons of ice cream on Sundays, the sound of rain on the tin roof, outwitting the chickens to collect their eggs, riding the workhorse bareback, corn starch pie, Aunt Lottie sighting alongside the house to determine the noon hour, washing one’s legs and feet before going to bed and strips of newspaper fastened at the top of the screen door to keep out flies.
The old farmhouse on Lemert Road is gone now but the memories are as fresh as ever to Hinzman. Three of his Sponseller cousins, Joyce Lust and Lucille Stetzer of Bucyrus and Arian Shupp of Brokensword, still live in Crawford County.
As the years passed, the village of Broken-sword gradually lost its stores, mills and taverns. However, even after 170 years, an active community remains between the signs on Ohio 19 and the descendants of many original homesteaders still live in the county. They can be proud of the vision that brought their ancestors to Crawford County and the strength that kept them here.