History of Chardon, Ohio
1795-1848 - The Pioneers
The pioneers traveled in horse-drawn covered wagons, ox carts, sleighs, and makeshift sleds. They packed supplies such as pork and beans, maple syrup buckets and butter churns, and axes and lanterns. Cached among such material necessities were the hopes, dreams, and cultural baggage that even today mark Chardon's New England roots. Cultural Baggage items included town names, town planning, religious beliefs, architecture, and a commitment to education and libraries.
Two major trails led to the Western Reserve from the east. Both the northern Lake Trail and the southern Pennsylvania State Road required a journey of eight to ten weeks. In 1812, Captain Edward Paine, Jr., moved into the log cabin that would be his temporary home and the first courthouse on Chardon Square. He was one of our first pioneers and the founder of Chardon. He served as Recorder from 1811 to 1835, Chardon postmaster ca. 1813 and County Auditor from 1820 to 1822.
1808-1848 - Chardon, A New England Town
In 1808, representatives from the Ohio General Assembly chose an unpopulated wilderness on a hill for the county seat of justice. With several fledgling towns under consideration, "nearly everyman in Geauga County was thunderstruck," the editor of the Painesville Telegraph reminisced.
Land for the town plat was purchased for $400.00 from absentee owner and Boston entrepreneur Peter Chardon Brooks. By 1810, the wilderness on the hill had a name, Chardon (French for thistle). Other names considered included Brookfield, Brookville, Marshall, and Chardonia.
Chardon Square was a quintessential example of New England town planning with its focus on a central green or common surrounded by the most important community institutions, including the courthouse and town hall, churches, and schools. Early inns and stores as well as the homes of prominent residents also surrounded the green.
By 1848, a large columned courthouse (build 1824-1829) and a simple white clapboard Methodist Church (build ca. 1835) graced the north half of Main Street, attesting to the cultural importance of government and religion in a transplanted New England town. The Courthouse stood where Court Street and Lawyer's Title stand today. The Methodist Church was replaced by Memorial Hall (now the three story portion of the Courthouse Annex).
The New England commitment to education included making books available to the entire community, even one as tiny as Chardon with its population of 446 in 1840. On August 26, 1858, community members met in the Courthouse to organize a public library. County Recorder John French was chosen the first librarian and the books were kept in the Recorder's Office. The membership fee was one dollar per year or the donation of one good book.
1868 - The Great Fire
On July 24, 1868, a fire broke out on Chardon's Main Street. The fire destroyed the Courthouse and with it the library. Many county records were saved but the fate of the library books is not known.
While the 1868 fire was Chardon's most devastating, it was not the only blaze residents battled. In 1876 a factory on North Hambden and an extensive flour mill at Washington and Water Streets burned. As a result a fire department was organized on March 21, 1877.
1868-1870 – Rebuilding
Two days following the fire, the Geauga County Commissioners and the citizens of Chardon led by Mayor E.V. Canfield gathered in the Chardon Town Hall on East Park Street. They discussed rebuilding the Courthouse and Main Street, resolving to "work unitedly and make every personal sacrifice that a renewal of our general prosperity may require"
The Chardon Town Hall was built ten years after the town was incorporated. It stood on the site of the former High School, the current site of the Park Elementary playground just north of the Auditorium.
L.J. Randall spearheaded construction of the Randall Block (currently Antiques on the Square north to the I.O.O.F. hall, now Killeen Art Studio). The Chardon Building Company contracted with Herrick and Simmons of Cleveland to build the Union Block (currently Rickard's Bakery north to Court Street).
1815-1939 - Educating a Community
Reading, writing, and arithmetic were necessary skills for transplanted New Englanders committed to the Yankee work ethic and entrepreneurial success. Sending talented sons east to Yale College was an accepted practice until institutions of higher learning could be founded in the wilderness. But first, children needed educational opportunities in their home community.
The first school in Chardon may have been taught in the second courthouse (A.K.A. King Courthouse, built in 1813 by Samuel King) on Water Street by Miss Mehitable Hall, later Mrs. Orrin Spencer of Claridon.
Pioneer schools, open for short sessions, also met in private homes and the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church (built ca. 1835), then located on Main Street where now stands Memorial Hall (part of the Courthouse Annex).
The Brick Academy was built in the Main Street business row in 1826 and operated into 1840. Instructor Dr. O.W. Ludlow boarded nearby in Aaron Canfield's tavern and called his pupils to class each morning with a bugle.
Growth and change in the public schools was reflected in literary needs. In 1879 Chardon School teacher C.W. Carroll organized the Chardon Public School Library and Literary Society with books provided by the State of Ohio.
In 1882, the Chardon Circulating Library moved from the Recorder's Office in the Courthouse to the dental rooms of Dr. A.P. Nichols over the bank. In 1886, Carroll and members of the Union Temperance Meeting opened a room "as a place of resort for young people for reading and general improvement," over Moffet's store. In six months, the collection grew to nearly 600 volumes and 30 periodicals.
1898-1925 - Transportation & The Interurban
Chardon's transportation networks have been vital to community growth, beginning in 1798 when the Connecticut Land Company paid for the clearing of what became Girdled Road just north of Chardon.
Increased transportation networks connected Chardon to the world outside Geauga County, offering Clevelanders and others a glimpse of the country and small town life and attracting new residents.
Rumors of an electric road from Cleveland to Chardon circulated for several years before commitments were secured in 1898. South Street property owners even petitioned Village Council to grant a franchise for use of their street.
The livery stables, once so popular on Chardon Square, were replaced in the 20th century by automobile garages and service stations.