Fayette County History & Genealogy

History of Fayette County

From R. S. Dills' History of Fayette County


Ill addition to the facts already mentioned in the geology of this county, we deem it our duty to give credit, in this connection, to some individual efforts which have brought about grand results in the direction of agricultural advancement, improvement and development.

Many years prior to the settlement of the territory now included in this county, it was a favorite hunting ground for the roving bands of Indians, who occupied the country lying between the old town of Chillicothe, in Greene County, where they had their council house and headquarters, and the Ohio, and who each year burnt off the grass, which, in some places, grew six feet high. As the white settlers gradually came in, however, and the Indian withdrew, the rank vegetation was permitted to grow up, fall down and decay, from year to year, until the deep accumulation of vegetable matter produced miasmatic infection to such an extent that the county, during the years from 1818 to 1824, was rendered almost uninhabitable, and all who could possibly leave the county, did so.

On Lee's Creek, or between Lee's and Rattlesnake, in the early history of the county, a settlement was formed by the Yocums, Bursons and others, which, on account of the extremely unhealthy condition of the same, was totally abandoned, and the empty cabins were seen standing as late as 1820.

These cabins, it is said, were superior in their structure to any in the county, having been hewn smooth on the outside and the corners neatly dovetailed, and carried up straight and square.

To such an extent, indeed, did malaria exist, that the county was in danger of total depopulation in some regions, especially north of Washington, in Jasper, Jefferson, Paint, Madison, Marion, and the northern part of Union, while those south of Washington were level, but the beds of the streams being deeper, formed abetter underdrainage.

What nature had failed to do, therefore, in some parts, must be done by the agency of man in the way of ditching.


The pioneers in this enterprise were Judge D. McLain and several others, who cut a few open ditches in the wettest lands, one of which, cut by D. McLain, emptying into Vandenian's Run, was visited by people from a distance, as a great curiosity.

In about 1840, the open ditches were improved by having wood placed in them and filled in with dirt. These again were again superceded by the


The first effort in this direction was made by Judge McLain, who conceived the idea of placing brick on end, closed at the top, and about six inches apart at the bottom. These, however, when the dirt was thrown in, sank into the ground and proved worthless.

A kind of tube was then manufactured, by hand, which, though a very slow process, was a great improvement upon the open ditch, the wood covered ditch, or the brick.

As the feasability of tiling was established, and the great advantages perceived, the Judge erected a power tile machine, said to be the first in the United States.

In 1856 or 1857, J. W. Penfield procured a patent for a horsepower tile machine and exhibited the same at the state fair, at Cincinnati. Judge McLain saw the machine, finally bought it, set it up on his farm and burned a kiln of tile. Prior to the introduction of this machine, tile were pressed by a large lever worked by hand.

There was much prejudice against tile through the belief that the water could not get through the tile; which had to be refuted by the actual experiment of placing a closed tile perpendicular in a bed of mortar and filling it with water; and not until the water was seen oozing through and running away, was prejudice disarmed, and the incalculable value of tile established.

In the beginning, tile were manufactured for his individual use, but in order to introduce the article, and induce others to improve their lands, he would manufacture for others, in small quantities, to test their value

In about 1850, he began tiling his wettest lands on a systematic basis.

Arguing from the law that water, in sinking through the soil, became perfectly filtered thereby, he placed his tile at a depth of three feet below the surface, so that no sediment would ever be deposited round about the tile. The sequel has proved the wisdom of this reasoning, evidenced by the fact that his first ditches have never been repaired, while those put in shallower, and at a much later date, have been constantly out of order.

It is stated that the difference in the crops for the first year will pay for the tiling. So plainly has this appeared to the people, that now, instead of a few little open ditches, mud, malaria, chills and fever, milk sickness, decaying vegetation, stagnant pools, etc., almost every farm is thoroughly drained. The water sinks down as if by magic, enabling the farmer to work his crops in a few hours after a rain.

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