source: Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum
The community is best remembered as the capture site of the county’s namesake. Later it decided to pass on the railroad before the days of the Parker Brothers game of Monopoly. But now Leesville is waiting for the completion of a brand new nature center so others can better enjoy and appreciate its rich history and natural beauty. Colonel William Crawford was captured by Indians who were literally on the warpath on the east end of what is now Leesville on June 7, 1782. Four days later, he was tortured and burned at the stake in Wyandot County.
Leesville’s founder, the Rev. Robert Lee, came to Jefferson Township and purchased 160 acres along the headwaters of the Sandusky River from Jacob Snyder in 1828. The following year he laid out the town of Leesburg that was later renamed Leesville. Lee’s original plans called for at least 109 lots and three streets. Main Street became part of the original Lincoln Highway and is now Leesville Road. The north-south Liberty Street is Ohio 598 and Wood Street is the town’s meandering alley.
Lee himself was one of the original merchants of the town. His trading post did business with the Indians as well as settlers and still stands on the southeast corner of the intersection of Leesville Road and Ohio 598. It’s now an antique store — the J & M Trading Post operated by Joe and Nancy Everly. Two doctors, John McKean and T.H.B. Clutter, served residents although both eventually moved to Crestline. The town soon had several trades and craftsmen including a shoe maker, chair factory and blacksmith. The blacksmith and wagon maker, Peter Wirt, operated the Underground Railroad haven.
William DeWalt Lived in Leesville into the 1930s. The Civil War veteran told younger members of his family real-life Indian stories. “He was there when the Indians were there east of Leesville down by the bridge,” Wilma (DeWalt) Hoyles said. One of the mysteries from the days American Indians inhabited the area still remains unsolved. The area’s natives never had a shortage of lead for weapons and it was rumored they had a secret lead mine. When the Indians left for short periods of time, local settlers scoured the woods but never found it.
John Teel was the first saloon keeper in the town that one day had seven. Although all seven have long since disappeared, the town’s two churches are still active. In 1839 President Martin Van Buren appointed Robert Lee Jr., the founder’s son, as Leesville’s first postmaster. Lee Jr. later served as a state senator for Crawford County, local probate judge and Crestline mayor.
The community’s fortunes took a turn for the better when a valuable stone quarry was discovered and developed on the farm of John Neumann on the town’s east side. The quarry was originally owned and operated by the Heckert and Rupp Company. It soon had the reputation as one of the finest in Ohio. The large flagstone sidewalks in Crestline and Leesville were made of stone quarried there as were the stone foundations of buildings in those two towns. The quarry was eventually sold to several men from Bucyrus and Leesville, becoming the Leesville Stone Company. For 12 years, it was one of Crawford County’s most profitable industries and at its busiest employed as many as 100 men. It was during that time, the late 1800s and early 1900s, that Leesville’s population peaked at over 300 people.
In addition to Crawford and DeWalt, Leesville had another military hero — Eldon “Red” Fetter. Fetter was a 1942 graduate of Leesville High School and the son of Lester and Gladys Fetter. He was a first engineer and gunner on a B-24 Liberator with the 15th Army Air Force in Italy. His parents and family received notification that he was reported missing in action over Yugoslavia on Nov. 20, 1944. With help of local underground, resistance units across Europe, Fetter made his way to freedom and finally home to his wife, Rosella (Winch).
Although U.S. 30 will again miss Leesville with its newest route, this time south of the village, the community isn’t being totally overlooked. Lowe-Volk Park is located on the south banks of the Sandusky River east of Ohio 598. The Crawford Park District is preparing to build a new nature center in the scenic woods overlookiyears at Leesville school. “We moved over there when he became principal and it was like moving home.” Leesville actually reached its peak in the early 1900s and its founder, the Rev. Robert Lee, foresaw a city of several thousand people. Three events changed its fate and turned it into today’s sleepy crossroads without even a stop light. The railroad located in Crestline instead of Leesville because the Lee family refused to sell it property for a right of way. Then the town’s primary industry, the stone quarry, was abandoned. And the Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) moved to a road just north of town.
“It was before I was married,” Wilma Hoyles said about the east-west road in town being busy. Her father was Harry DeWalt and they lived on Leesville Road, part of the original Lincoln Highway, where the family had a tannery. “We used to have so much traffic.” William Eckert lived with his family on a farm north of Leesville on the road that is, for now, U.S. 30. “It was nothing but dirt and mud,” William’s son, Ike Eckert, said. “I can remember my dad hauling stone for it with his wagons and horses.”
Leesville built a brick school in 1887. But until the late 1920s, the school only taught eight grades. “When I went to school there, we couldn’t graduate,” Hoyles said. “My dad didn’t have the money for me to go to Galion or Crestline, so I took the Boxwell Examination from Columbus. That’s how I got my diploma.” In 1928, the school underwent a major facelift and renovation thanks to several residents who took the matter into their own hands. They built an addition to the school that included a gym, cafeteria and new wing. Leesville High School graduated its first class in 1929. “I remember having the Christmas programs upstairs,” said Leila Witter, Ike Eckert’s older sister. “We used to have community picnics on the last day of school and everybody came.” Witter was one-fourth of that first class, and one of three still living. She was also the second of five consecutive generations in her family to attend school in the same Leesville building. Her father went there before it was a high school and her great granddaughter, Becky Ogle, was in the fourth grade at Leesville when it closed in 1994.
Witter has her own stories of walking to school in the snow. “We walked across the fields,” she said about living almost two miles from the school. “When the snow got hard, we would walk across it right over the fences.” Morton came to the school as a 19-year-old teacher in 1930. Although Leila Eckert (Witter) had graduated the year before, the two became friends. “It was a sports-loving community. She loved basketball,” Morton said. “She would come down after school sometimes and we would shoot baskets in the gym.” Before those days of basketball and later baseball, the community had its own band that played in parades and gave concerts. Hoyles’ father, Harry DeWalt, was part of the band directed by Jake Daum.
Like many families in the community, relatives were often neighbors. Hoyles’ grand niece, Loretta Page, lived next door to them at the tannery. “Our whole backyard was full of cages of coons, skunks and fox,” Page said. “My dad worked as a barber back then. I can remember gypsies stopping by and going to the garage with Dad.”
An unsolved Leesville mystery from the 1900s is the murder of Clarence Lowe. “Lois (Hoyle’s sister) and I were walking down by the quarry. We saw Clarence Lowe sitting in the car after he was shot,” Hoyles said. “We ran home to tell our mother.” Although no one was ever arrested, there was plenty of rumors. “That was kind of a love triangle,” Page said. “They couldn’t prove it, but it was plain enough.”
The abandoned quarry, although private property flooded and was a natural place along with the nearby Sandusky River and Allen’s Run for people to enjoy themselves. “We called it the Slippery Hole,” Hoyles said about Blue Hole, a section of the quarry that was a popular spot for wading and fishing. Several people found the part of Allen’s Run just above its connection with the Sandusky River an even better spot. “We always went swimming over there in Allen’s Run,” Eckert said.
The north-south Liberty Street is Ohio 598 and Wood Street is the town’s meandering alley.