Winesburg was founded on top of a hill, where State Route 62 now passes, in the northeastern sector of Holmes County, Ohio.  Winesburg can be found on a stretch of road that time surely has forgotten.  The road is like so many others with its usual cars and trucks and when visiting Winesburg, you can watch children play in their yards, while buggies slowly move by and mothers in dark dresses and white bonnets go about their daily activities.  If you close your eyes and listen, you can hear the clip clop of horses and the rumble of wagon wheels as they move along and a “foreign” language spoken by many.

For over one hundred  years Winesburg’s population has remained near two hundred.  The town hasn’t grown much and as the early descendents passed away, their homes and land were passed on, usually to relatives, leaving transitions ever gradual.  The children grow up learning that you must leave Winesburg to make something of yourself and more often than not, they return to the little village on the hill.  Winesburg is a place of peace and consistency, a place to grow old.

The village has never been incorporated, so to say where it begins and where it ends is impossible.  Not many towns can boast a cemetery on both ends of the village and the fact that William McKinley walked the streets from end to end then gave a speech, full of campaign promises at the band stand where the Winesburg Elementary School now stands.  It is also noted that two soldiers of the Revolutionary War are buried in Paint Township, a few miles from Winesburg.

Before Winesburg was settled in 1827, the earliest settlement known in Paint Township was in 1816, where Rueben Pfouts built a sawmill.  In the same year a number of pioneers settled in the northwestern part of the township.  Holmes County was not established until 1825, so early settlers' personal tax was paid in Wayne County.  The first recorded tax in Holmes County was in 1825, on 200 acres one mile north of Winesburg.  The farm was the Cornelius Lowe farm.  The following deed was recorded, “James Madison, President of the United States, to Henry Lowe, one Quarter section in Township 15 Range 11.”  Dated December 20, 1816.

Winesburg beginnings actually date back to the 18th century in Dinstbach, Germany.  A Lutheran Minister, Pastor Schmidt, believed in the future of the United States.  He had the desire to spread the Lutheran ministry to this country, and with that desire he envisioned a Lutheran College in the United States.  Pastor Schmidt educated his youngest son William and sent him to the United States just for the purpose, to find the ideal location to build a college.  William Schmidt, an ordained minister with a college degree, went to Philadelphia, Pa. with a message from his father to his older brother Christian Schmidt, who had gone to the United States some years before.  The message was to do all he could do to help his brother William accomplish the goal of establishing a college for the spreading of the Lutheran faith.   The brothers talked to many people about their goals and interest grew with Dr. August Scheurer who became involved with the plans.  Christian Schmidt encouraged his brother and Dr. Scheurer to start the college in the backwoods and let it grow with the fledgling country.  Christian Schmidt loaned them the balance of the money they needed to get things started.

Rev. William Schmidt and Dr. August Scheurer began their adventure in 1827, looking for the right location for the college.  They were accompanied by William’s brother, John Michael Schmidt and Mr. Frederick Hoppold.  The four pioneers, all of German decent, became known as the four bachelors.  They loaded their wagons down with things they would need to start a new life and the trip took the bachelors about two weeks.  The exact spot they decided on was what is now Winesburg.  They chose this location because of its scenic hills, ample water supply, fertile soil, and the variety of wild fruits.  It reminded them of their own German village, and inspired them to forge a place where their fellow countrymen could do business in their mother tongue.

Before the men could even start to build a college, Christian Schmidt’s house caught on fire and the family barely
escaped with their lives.  In this house, Christian stored the money, important papers and other valuables in a brass, bound chest.  The gold, silver and chest were never recovered from the fire, even though the ashes were carefully inspected and sifted.  It is believed that the house was set on fire to hide a robbery.  With his house in ruins, the making of a Winesburg College "went up in smoke".  Christian Schmidt had lost everything he owned, except for the personal money he had  set aside for the college and his fifty acres of land.  He now had to use those funds to build a new home for his family.  Because of the loss of money, Christian's brother William had to go elsewhere for financial aid to build his college.  In this he was successful and founded what is now known as Capitol University in the city of Columbus, Ohio.  

In 1832, William Schmidt surveyed and plated the town of Winesburg in thirty-two plots, and named it in honor of the town of Weinsburg, Germany.  During the thirty year war, Weinsburg, Germany was besieged by its enemy and told to surrender.  One of the conditions of surrender was that the women and children would be allowed to leave with as much of their worldly possessions as they could carry on their backs.  The next morning, when the gates opened, the women came through the gates with their husbands, boyfriends, and brothers on their backs.  The besiegers were so impressed by the women that they granted a general amnesty and allowed all the inhabitants to go free. 

Christian Schmidt and his brother continued to be in partnership and William lent his brother one thousand dollars to rebuild his home and store. In return for the loan, William kept the title to the 48 acres of land as security.  In 1834, William was preparing to leave for Columbus and sold his brother the title to the land and the store for the cost of four hundred dollars, then gave him the deed for the fifty-eight acres of land where Winesburg is located today.  Christian Schmidt’s store was the only one in the community until 1846.

In 1832, an Evangelical Zion Church was organized in Winesburg and Rev. William Smith donated the lot where the church now stands and two lots for the cemetery.  The first cornerstone was laid in 1833.  By 1869, the church needed extensive repairs and it was voted to tear the old building down and rebuild.  The cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1870 and dedicated in 1871. The church is still in operation today, and could be one of the most photographed buildings in Holmes County.

Winesburg became quickly settled between 1830 and 1850.  Many of the early settlers came from Germany and Switzerland.  The spelling of Weinsburg was changed to Winesburg by the United States postal authorities in 1833, when a post office was established.  Isolated on the hilltop, the canal and railroad never stopped in Winesburg, and crude highways kept the villagers close to home.  There was little reason to leave.  Two stores sold groceries and dry goods.  When a steer was slaughtered, a butcher sold meat, a tanner made leather from the hide and two different shoe makers manufactured boots.  There were eight saloons, three bands and stage productions at the town hall for entertainment.

As time progressed, technology brought about the invention of the automobile and the construction of a paved state highway through the town.  Large amounts of people were assembling in Winesburg and the problem of isolation had been eliminated. By 1860, Winesburg had a physician, five grocery stores, two taverns, a mattress works, three shoe stores, a hotel, harness and saddle shop, cigar shop, wagon and buggy works, copper shop, two blacksmiths, a butcher and a weaver.

Immigration of the Amish in Holmes County began around 1810.  By 1835, twenty five years after the settlement of Winesburg began, there were 250 taxable Amish families in the county.  It is estimated that 50,000 Amish live in Ohio today, with over 12,000 in Holmes County.  The Amish have spread over the hills and valleys of Holmes County, Ohio and extend from its boundaries into Coshocton, Tuscarawas, Stark and Wayne Counties, making up today’s largest continuous Amish community.

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