Playing pioneer was fun, when my fourth-grade self set up shop under our mountain ash tree with my lunch pail and my calico-covered copies of McGuffey Readers. But when I ducked inside this authentic early-19th century log cabin recently, I realized anew what life must have been like for the noted pioneer who called this home.
The cabin –- now on the grounds of the Madison County Historical Society in London, Ohio –- once stood along the Big Darby Creek, between West Jefferson and Plain City. It was the home of Jonathan Alder, the first white settler in Madison County who became something of a local celebrity.
In May 1782, nine-year-old Jonathan and his older brother, David, set out to find a mare that had strayed from their family’s cabin in southwest Virginia. They found their horse grazing in the neighboring countryside, but on their way home, they were attacked by Indians. David was killed; Jonathan was taken prisoner and was brought back to Ohio. For the next 13 years, Jonathan lived as an Indian, learning their language and following their customs. In 1795, Jonathan left his Indian ways, settling as a frontiersman in Pleasant Valley, near present-day Plain City. He traveled to his Virginia home in 1805 to find his mother and his siblings, but returned to Pleasant Valley. Later, he moved to Darby, where he built his cabin and raised horses, hogs and cattle. In the late 1830s or early 1840s, he wrote his memoirs, sharing what his life with the Indians and his experiences as an early Ohio pioneer were like. The narrative not only chronicles his harrowing captivity experiences, but also details the tribulations of life on the frontier. He died in 1849 and was buried in in Foster Chapel Cemetery in West Jefferson.
Jonathan Alder’s cabin might be considered the star attraction of the Madison County Historical Society’s “Jonathan Alder Day,” held one Sunday afternoon in September. Costumed interpreters demonstrate making apple cider with period equipment…
while gardening vendors sell seasonal items like Indian corn and fragrant swags of Sweet Annie arranged with colorful dried flowers.No matter what time of year, a visit to the historical society’s grounds provides an opportunity to explore some other historic structures that have been moved to the property. The Beach School, originally located north of London on State Route 38, is furnished with period desks donated by Madison County residents, as well as a globe and clock from the London Public Library. Metal lunch pails, slate boards, a 37-star American flag, and a portrait of President Ulysses Grant recreate a circa-1872 atmosphere, when the one-room schoolhouse was used by students in grades 1 through 8. A circa-1840 train depot and caboose stand beside it.The circa-1824 Elizabeth Kitchen House originally stood at 87 N. Union St. in London. One of the first log homes in London, the restored home features first-floor woodwork painted in blue, a common period color, as well as an upstairs loft for sleeping.
The Madison County Historical Society is located at 260 E. High St. in London and is open Sundays and Wednesdays from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. For more on Jonathan Alder, read A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians, by Henry Clay Alder, transcribed and with a foreword by Doyle H. Davison and edited by Larry L. Nelson.