Editor’s note: For many years, local historian Jean Wallis provided a feature to The Times-Gazette called “Highland Guideposts.” She is updating and resubmitting some of those articles from time to time, including this one.
Washburn Hill, located in Brushcreek Township, is the highest point in Highland County at 1,343 feet above sea level. In the shadow of this hill that bears their name is where the Washburn family in Highland County began. At the base of the hill, in the ancient burying ground, lie the early members of the Washburn family. The cemetery, overgrown with brush and trees, is not alone as there are many more like in it throughout southern Ohio.
As early as 1802, James Washburn settled here when it was still part of the Northwest Territory.
James Washburn was born March 9, 1779, in Pennsylvania, the son of Nathaniel and Christina (Schever) Washburn. He migrated along with the rest of the Washburn family to present day Adams County, where Nathaniel settled at the headwaters of Donalson Creek. From there James migrated to present day Brushcreek Township, Highland County.
On July 20, 1803, in Ross County, James married Magdalena Elizabeth Countryman, born Nov. 10, 1775, and baptized Dec. 3, 1775, at the Salem Reformed Church in Washington County, Md. Elizabeth was the oldest daughter of Henry and Barbara Ann (Ridenour) Countryman. The Countryman family had migrated to present day Brushcreek Township from Rockingham County, Va. in 1802.
Not only the shadow of Washburn Hill, but that of Fort Hill along Baker’s Fork, could be seen in the distance from the two-story log house erected by James that stood well into the 20th century, as did the large log barn.
James, coming from a family of millers (Nathaniel had a mill on Donalson Creek in Adams County), saw the advantage of water power available and began preparation to build a mill on Baker’s Fork. The name Baker’s Fork can be found in the earliest records of Brushcreek Township. The creek starts its journey in Perry Township, Pike County, south of Cameron Mountain, west of Whiskey Hollow. Flowing southwest through Beech Flats, it enters Brushcreek Township near the junction of SR 753 and SR 41. North of Fort Hill it passes through some of the county’s most beautiful, wooded areas and unusual rock formations. It passes near the Natural Bridge and along Chimney Rock and the White Cliffs. Baker’s Fork once supported five gristmills, the Porter mill being the last one to cease operation.
James began by building a sawmill along Baker’s Fork where a large rook hangs over the creek. When erected the dam was 10 feet high and caused a problem for Samuel Miller, who had built a grist mill down stream from Washburn. Miller could only operate his mill during the rainy season of the year.
James operated the sawmill for a number of years before he added the gristmill and continued its operation until his death.
James and Elizabeth were the parents of five sons and three daughters. Lemuel Washburn never married; Nathaniel Washburn married Mary Murphy; Christina Washburn married John Butler; John Washburn married Sally Jackson; Cynthia Ann Washburn married Benjamin Murphy; Susanna Washburn married Charles Cluff; Henry Washburn married Elizabeth West; James Washburn never married; and Thomas Washburn married Elizabeth Knisley.
During the War of 1812, James served as a private in Capt. Daniel McCreery’s Company, Ross County. Time saw James become a successful farmer and miller. On Feb. 13, 1848, James Washburn died and was laid to rest in the Washburn Cemetery.
Elizabeth continued to reside at the old homestead with her son, James, and nephew, William Countryman. In 1860, at the advanced age of 85, she was residing with her son-in-law, Charles Cluff. Elizabeth passed away on Jan. 14, 1870, at the age of 94. She was laid to rest beside James in the Washburn Cemetery. Dr. Charles Leighton attended her in her last illness. The clothes in which she was buried in were purchased from Hiestand and Copeland in Sinking Spring. They cost $8.50. Thomas McClure made her coffin for $25 and her tombstone was purchased from Paul Harsha of the Harsha Monument Company in Hillsboro for $60.