- Amish Country
Today, Fredericktown has the distinction of being Knox County's largest village. It is home to more than 2,000 folks that live here today. The area has been occupied long before 1807 when John Kerr first made plans for the village to go along with the mill he was building. Each summer Fredericktown residents and civic leaders host their annual Tomato Show on the first weekend in September. Most people may not be aware that Fredericktown is also the originator of the official dress jacket warn by the National Future Farmers of America Organization (FFA).
In 1933 the local chapter of the FFA went to the national convention where blue corduroy jackets with the FFA logo on the back of the jacket. So impressed with their effort, the delegates adopted those jackets as the official attire for the FFA and are still in use. A bit of trivia is that one of those jackets was worn in the movie Napoleon Dynamite by characters taking part in an agriculture competition.
Like much of Ohio, there is overwhelming evidence that it was inhabited 100s if not 1000s of years ago by an organized culture that left behind evidence of elaborate mortuary practices in the form of burial mounds. Fredericktown has evidence of multiple burial mounds associated with the Hopewell and Adena Cultures. Initially there were three mounds located around Fredericktown. The Raleigh Mound and the Stackhouse Mound and Works have survived, while the 3rd mound was demolished due to a construction project.
The area that John Kerr selected to build a new town was nothing more than two Indian trails that crossed over a section of the North Branch of the Kokosing River. By all accounts it was a beautiful piece of land that made an impression on Kerr, after all he could have chosen any 50 acres that he wanted with only two requirements.
The area around where Fredericktown would be built was initially surveyed by Lucas Sullivant, a Virginia born surveyor who had surveyed much of a strip of land adjoining the length of the Scioto River. Sullivant had settled down at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers and formed the town Franklinton. As was the practice among early surveying parties, often a large portion of the lands surveyed were given as payment for their services. They of course had no physical need for this land, but to get paid, they had to sell off these vast square miles of land. This is what John Kerr was doing, securing title to land already under contract to Sullivant, but being the first person to make inquiries on this particular area, Sullivant was ready to make him an offer he couldn't refuse.
When the first pioneers arrived in this area, they were very organized and it would only take just a few years before Knox County would become a reality. The reason for this was their organization. Most of those arriving here had come from the state of Maryland. They were known as Friends amongst themselves, but as Quakers to the rest of the world. In 1805 Henry Roberts led this immigration of sorts from Maryland and established a community about 5 miles north of what would become Mount Vernon. In short time William Farquhar, who was a cousin of Roberts arrived with his family and John Kerr arrived a short time later. It would be John Kerr who would establish the town of Fredericktown, named after his home back in Maryland. Other members of this migratory group would go on to form a number of towns that today are highly prized for their Amish traditions
When John Kerr was making his plans, he learned from Henry Roberts that he needed to find Lucas Sullivant for a land title where Kerr wanted to establish his new community around the north branch of the Kokosing River. Lucas agreed to give him 50 acres of John's choice out of 4,000 acres with the provision that he settle there and build a mill. The reason for Sullivant's generosity was that if he could induce just a single family to settle in this beautiful, but extremely dangerous land, it would help attract additional settlers to the area.
At the time the nearest fully functional mill was more than 100 miles south on the Hockhocking River in Fairfield county. Although there was a mill few townships over, it was widely known to be of a poor quality that a farmer could probably get better results by using a small hand-mill to grind his grain. John agreed to Sullivant's offer and also agreed to buy an additional 450 acres upon which he could build a town. He asked William Farquhar, another Friend surveyor, to layout the new town which included dividing the land into plots which could be sold to new settlers, one of which was William and his brother. In the fall of 1807, John constructed a dam, built a log house and began cracking corn.
By 1812 there were a total of nine log cabins and one frame building in which house the first store where the Methodist Church now stands. When the War of 1812 broke out and like many isolated communities in the state, the small band of Fredericktown citizens had to rely on their own ingenuity and resources to defend themselves against possible Indian attack. They did so by building a stockade house to provide refuge in case of attack.
Webster Clay Ball was born in Fredericktown in 1847 and in 1879 he married Florence Young of Kenton. As a young man he completed a 2 year apprenticeship to a jeweler where he learned the art and craft of watch making. He moved to Cleveland and opened a jewelry business which evolved into the Ball Watch Company (which is now headquartered in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland). Mr. Webb is known for being the first jeweler to use time signals from the United States Naval Observatory which makes his time pieces the most accurate in the country at the time.
After a tragic train accident in Kipton, Ohio resulting from an inaccurate time piece, Ball set out to establish new standards for time keeping in the United States. The clock now residing in Fredericktown was built by Ball in 1886. Although it was in much need of repairs, the clock which had been standing on a sidewalk in Cleveland, was brought to Fredericktown in honor of Ball's birthplace. The clock was restored and is now fully functioning.
In Webb Ball's Cleveland store, he had a very accurate chronograph that people could set their timepieces. So famous were his clocks that people began referring to someone who was punctual as being "On the Ball!" a reference to Ball's timepieces.
The Fredericktown Historical Society has amassed an amazing collection of historical artifacts and memorabilia associated with Fredericktown and many other nearby small communities here in Knox County. The museum is housed in the old 1856 Methodist Episcopal Church on East Sandusky Street. The museum is open to the public on the 2nd Sunday of the month from 2-4 p.m. with special tours available as needed.