By Patricia Beech –
Bentonville is a tiny rural community that grew up along side the frontier trail known as Zane’s Trace. At the time it was established, few pioneers would travel northward without passing through the fledgling village.
Situated on an elevated plain in Sprigg Township, the town is today divided, east and west, by Ohio Highway 41.
Well kept residential properties border both sides of the two lane highway, while many of the town’s historical buildings occupy its small central business district.
Adams County’s earliest settlers, traveling by flat-bottomed boats down the Ohio River, would disembark in either Manchester or Aberdeen before making the grinding six-mile long, mostly uphill trek to the Bentonville, which stood at the confluence of Ohio Highways 136 and 41(also known as Manchester Pike.)
The village’s Palace Hotel offered a welcome respite for weary travelers, as well as a Livery Station for their teams of draft horses and oxen. Next door, the local blacksmith ran a thriving business repairing wagon wheels broken on the rough stage coach trail that ran from Maysville to Chillicothe.
Among those who stayed in the white two-story clapboard hotel was President Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator who served in Jackson’s cabinet – the town is named in his honor.
“Our little town has a lot more history than a lot of people might think,” says Bentonville Postmaster Linda Sue Naylor. “A lot of people passed through here in the early years on their way to other places.”
The town was laid out in 19 lots in 1839 by Joseph Leedom. The village grew quickly. In just six years it expanded to include 134 lots and several business enterprises including millinery shops, blacksmiths, grocers, harness makers, a mill, the Palace Hotel and Livery Stable, three taverns, a dry goods store, a barber shop, a restaurant, a cream station, three churches, and a school.
Some of the town’s earliest buildings still remain standing, including a one- story commercial building that was originally an Ohio river boat.
While the layout of the village streets has remained essentially unchanged through the town’s 178-year history, very few of the original businesses and homes remain, according to Naylor, who gives a detailed description of each village property in her book, “A Brief History of Bentonville, Ohio”.
“A lot of the oldest homes are gone now,” she says. “And, the older people who remembered when the town had a fair, and a baseball team, and the Silver Cornet Band – they’re all gone now too.”
The Naylor family has served as Postmasters for the tiny unincorporated community since 1949. Verna Lorene Naylor had the distinction of being honored as the Oldest Postmaster and the Oldest Postal employee in the United States. She became postmaster on Sept. 25, 1968 and served until her death at age 94 on July 6, 2010. The position is now filled by her son, James.
According to Naylor, the Post Office has become “a place for congregating with friends and neighbors to discuss the happenings in our community.”
While many of the village residents regret the loss of the town’s historical buildings and local businesses, they agree the village is still a great place to live.
Retired school teacher Sue Tumbleson, whose family has lived in Bentonville for generations, says she wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.
“Everyone in Bentonville is very friendly and helpful – they ‘d do anything for you,” she says. “It’s like all the other small towns in the county – a lot of the businesses are gone because it’s hard to compete with the big box stores – it was hard on our town, but the people are still here doing what they can to keep the town going.”
Will Lovejoy and his wife Whitney have lived in Bentonville since 2010. Originally from Manchester, the couple lived several years in Mount Vernon, Ohio before returning to Adams County.
“We got a taste of city life and decided we wanted to come back to the area to be closer to our families and our friends,” says Lovejoy. “Bentonville is a great place to live because you get to experience rural living, but you’re also right next to a highway so you can get where you’re going without a lot of trouble.”
Today Bentonville is best known for establishing one of Ohio’s earliest and most colorful law enforcement agencies – the Anti-Horse Thief Society. Early Ohioans relied on horses and mules for transportation and farming, the theft of these animals, though quite common, was a serious offense.
According to Naylor’s book, “The Society was organized in March 1853 by a group of farmers who formed a vigilante group with the purpose of protecting their horses and mules from lawless thieves, and prosecution of the same.”
A designated number of the Society’s members would ride in pursuit of suspected horse thieves, who, if captured, were hung without a trial. The Society paid the captors a ten-dollar reward. As the use of horses decreased, the organization evolved into a social club.
The Society was incorporated in 1880, and today, in its 164th year, it is the oldest continuously operating group of its kind in Ohio, boasting thousands of members from Ohio and across the United States.
The Society’s annual banquet is held each April. Enrollment is open to everyone at the cost of $1 for a lifetime membership.