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Harveysburg, Ohio on Caesar’s Creek Lake ~ A Little Village with a Big History

(Massie Township, Warren County, 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati
& 15 miles southeast of Dayton.)

By Karen S. Campbell, Southwest Ohio Research

 In 1969, the Little Miami River became Ohio’s first designated State Scenic River. If one day you find yourself driving through the beautiful Little Miami River National Scenic River corridor in Warren County, Ohio, veer off to the east and investigate the valley of one of its tributaries, Caesar’s Creek. Near where Caesar’s Creek enters the Little Miami, about four miles south of Waynesville and three miles north of Oregonia, there once stood an old mill, the Telegraph Mill, not far from the present Corwin M. Nixon Covered Bridge.  The mill foundations can still be found with a bit of effort. From that point for approximately two miles along Caesar’s Creek are located the four hundred and eighty-three acres of the Caesar’s Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve.  The steep walls of the gorge rise 180 feet above the river. It is one of the many locations in the Little Miami watershed that draw fossil aficionados from far and wide. To be specific, the area is a classic Upper Ordovician fossilcollecting locality.  Visitors are asked to visit the Caesar’s Creek State Park visitor’s center to obtain a free permit to hunt for fossils.

At the northeast end of the gorge is the earthen Caesar’s Creek Lake Dam and the beginning of the Caesar’s Creek Lake State Park.   The valley was impounded in 1978 by the Army Corps of Engineers to aid in flood control.  In the past, the Little Miami and Caesar’s Creek were turbulent and angry rivers when water levels rose.  All the villages and hamlets along the rivers suffered horribly from floods, with the exception of Harveysburg. It was saved from that fate since it was located safely up on a 100 foot bluff above the creek.  Caesar’s Creek Lake is now a 4,700 acre park with an adjacent 2,500 acre wildlife area.  Directly southeast of the dam is the Caesar’s Creek Spillway, which was created at the same time as the lake.  It is another marvelous place to search for fossils.  If you visit the spillway in the summer to fossil hunt, be prepared for heat similar to Death Valley!    But, your efforts will be rewarded when you find loads of  trilopods,  brachiopods,  corals, and shells of all kinds.  You will be walking on the floor of a 125 million old sea bottom.

Caesar’s Creek before it became a lake.  The bridge spanning the valley is on Rte. 73 just outside of Harveysburg.  The village is up on the bluff, left outside of the photograph. One of a series of photographs taken by the Corp of Army Engineers.  To see the other photos go to: http://swohioresearch.com/index.php?p=7_1_Gallery-of-Photographs-of-Caesar-s-Creek-Valley.

As they dismantled many of the old houses in Caesar’s Creek Valley before the flooding of the lake, many original log cabins were discovered and moved to Pioneer Village located at the southeast end of the lake off of Oregonia Road.  Eighteen building have been preserved and the village hosts a number of events throughout the year. The Caesar’s Creek  Nature Center is located directly across from Pioneer Village. The creek and valley got its name from a black slave named Caesar captured by the Shawnee Indians during a raid along the Ohio River. He was adopted by the tribe and this valley was given to him for his hunting grounds.

Before 1978 the rich Caesar’s Creek Valley northeast of the gorge was populated with productive farms, many of them owned by Quaker families who first came to the area at the turn of the 19th century.   There are a number of reasons why the area became a hot spot along the Underground Railroad.

Firstly,  many of the early Quakers who settled in the Harveysburg area had migrated from the south to escape the immoral influence of slavery. Some Friends had been slave owners before being convinced of the evil of the institution.  Many of the pioneer family brought their freed slaves with them to the Northwest Territory.

Secondly, the lush valley was deep with a high bluff rising from the east bank of the creek.  Along that bluff were caves and springs of clear water.  Today, a section of the park is known as “The Fifty Springs Picnic Area and Campground.” Sadly, most of the springs have been destroyed through the creation of the lake.  Freedom seekers could move north from the Cincinnati area by following the Little Miami and then Caesar’s Creek finding shelter and good drinking water beneath the village of Harveysburg located on the bluff above. They would also find sympathetic supporters, both black and white, of their journey north to freedom.

Thirdly, up on the bluff east of the creek was located an old Indian trail which was named the Bullskin Trace by the settlers.  It was also used by the UGRR. Many freedom seekers moving north from the Ripley area along the Ohio River found their way to the Harveysburg (Warren Co.)/Oakland (Clinton Co.) neighborhood.

Fourthly, a large number of Quakers, members of The Society of Friends had settled in the area of Harveysburg and nearby Oakland.  Many radical Friends, who were abolitionists, as well as members of other denominations, were deeply involved in the UGRR.

The area around the future Harveysburg was settled in the late 18th and early in the 19th century.  The first owner of the land was Abraham Buford in 1787. By 1815 the earliest community circled around the second owner, Rhoden Ham, whose cabin and farm was atop the ridge overlooking Caesar’s Creek.  The area was abounding in rich virgin land, which only needed hard work to turn into productive farms.  William Harvey became the proprietor in 1827 and he platted and laid out the village, which would be named after him, in 1829.  Harveysburg was located on the main road leading from east to west (now Rte. 73). William Harvey was a prominent businessman in the village and was engaged in the pork business.   Harveysburg and many of the towns and villages in the area were profiting from the huge pork processing industry centered in Cincinnati.  Cincinnati was known as “Porkpolis,” the pork supplier for the country. William Harvey moved to Parke County,Indiana for a while but then returned to Harveysburg where he died in December 1866.

Harveysburg was not an exclusively Quaker community, but the Quaker community there was very strong and active.  There were two Quaker meetinghouses in Harveysburg itself.   Grove Meeting was established as an “Indulged” meeting, a satellite of Miami Monthly Meeting located five miles away in Waynesville, on January 29th, 1817.  In 1823 it became a “meeting for worship” and a “Preparative Meeting” of Miami Monthly Meeting.  The original Grove Meetinghouse as located on an eight-acre lot about one and one-half miles south of Harveysburg (Survey 1045), about half way to a tiny crossroads named Henpeck.  It was the first church in the area to be built.  Richard Moon originally owned the land.  The first meetinghouse was built of logs and was used both as a meeting and a thriving schoolhouse.  The Hicksite Schism of 1828 among the Quakers wrecked its havoc on Grove Meeting.  It divided into the Hicksite and Orthodox groups and both groups moved into the newly platted village of Harveysburg.

The modified Hicksite Meetinghouse and cemetery (stones underground).  The meetinghouse originally was two stories with two separate doors for men and women. Photo taken by Karen Campbell.
The modified Hicksite Meetinghouse and cemetery (stones underground). The meetinghouse originally was two stories with two separate doors for men and women. Photo taken by Karen Campbell.

The old wood framed Hicksite Meetinghouse, continuing on as an “indulged’, “preparative”, and “meeting for worship” under the jurisdiction of Miami Monthly Meeting (Hicksite) in Waynesville, survived until it was “laid down” in 1907.  This meetinghouse still stands as a private residence at the end of East Main Street in Harveysburg.  There is a small Hicksite Quaker cemetery next to the building (see above).

The brick Orthodox Meetinghouse was built in 1875 and replaced the old meetinghouse which dated from the time the meeting moved into town.

The Orthodox Meetinghouse became known as the Harveysburg Preparative Meeting.  It became the Miami Monthly Meeting (Orthodox) in 1942 when the dwindling Orthodox monthly meeting moved from Waynesville to Harveysburg.  It was laid down in 1960.  The Orthodox Meetinghouse still stands, privately owned, at the fork of the road created by Maple and Clark Streets in Harveysburg.  The Orthodox Quaker Cemetery is located across Clark Street behind two houses.

Caesar’s Creek lent itself to the establishment of mills: one group southwest of the town was built originally by Levi Lukens, another mill was at the foot of the town itself, and there was another at a hamlet named New Baltimore, which was located northwest of Harveysburg on a curve in the creek.   Little New Baltimore would be renamed Canbytown after Joshua Canby who was the owner of the mill in 1835 and conducted a very successful business there.  The mill provided jobs for the many freedmen who live in the area. Close to Canbytown was the Caesar’s Creek Monthly Meeting of Friends.  Canbytown on the creek, which is now under the water of Caesar’s Creek Lake, was just a mile or so away from the Quaker Meeting down in a ravine known as Brimestone Valley.  Caesar’s Creek Meetinghouse was moved during the construction of the lake to Caesar’s Creek Pioneer Village.

Elizabeth Burgess Harvey in old age.

By the 1830s there was an arc of African-American communities in the area stretching from little Crosswick, located one mile north of Waynesville, to Canbytown, to Harveysburg itself, and further east into Chester Co. of  Clinton County.   Harveysburg was a remarkably integrated community before the Civil War.  This should not be surprising considering that the founder of the town was the son of UGRR conductor Isaac Harvey and abolitionist Lydia Dicks (Dix) Harvey.  Harveysburtg had a large and strong black/mulatto community living in the northern section of the village and just outside of it.   In 1831 there was enough black children in the area for Quaker Elizabeth Burgess Harvey (above), with the help of her husband Dr. Jesse Harvey, to establish  the first  Black School  in Ohio in Harveysburg.   It was built  just outside the original boundary of the village on the north side (Out Lot #2).  It was open to any child of color to attend.  Dr. Jesse Harvey also founded the Harveysburg Academy for white students.  The white brick one room Black Schoolhouse still stands on its original location and is now a museum.

The Harveysburg Historical Society conducts two open houses a year of the Black School Museum which was restored by the Society and maintained by it.  The open houses are on the third Sunday of September and May from 1-5 P.M.  The Black School Museum can also be opened by Appointment.  Please call Lucy McCarren for more information, 1-513-897-6195.

The relationship between African-Americans and white people in Harveysburg was usually copasetic for that time before the war.  Evidence seems to indicate that the Friends and other anti-slavery persons in the village and the Black community worked together to promote anti-slavery and possibly helped each other on the Underground Railroad.  The legend about Harveysburg is that once a freedom seeking slave got to Harveysburg, s/he could walk on the streets in daylight since almost everyone was a strong abolitionist if not a conductor on the UGRR.   This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but,  it was true that if any danger arose in Harveysburg itself from any local pro-slavery people or from the presence of a slave-catcher, the fugitive could be quickly taken north to more remote locales such as the northern part of Chester Township, or among the black communities already mentioned, or points further north in Ohio along the road to freedom in Canada.

When you stop by Harveysburg to visit the Black School Museum, plan to eat at Papi’s By the Lake located in the old Harveysburg school building.  Papi’s is a family owned and operated restaurant.  The food and service is great and affordable.  Enjoy the wonderful Harveysburg hospitality. Their food is always fresh and never frozen! Hamburger is ground daily in the kitchen. Their homemade cakes, pies, and pastries are yummy.

The area of Caesar’s Creek Lake is full of the beauties of nature.   For those of you who like to camp there are 283 electric sites for tent camping and sites for campers, too, on the east side of the lake off Center Road north of Harveysburg.  Showers and flush toilets are provided.  For the kids there is a playground and a basketball court as well as miniature golf.  A special area is provided for those with pets. Two camper cabins and two cabins are available.  If you ride there is an equestrian camp of 30 sites on the west side of the lake.

For the athletic, there are four trails for horseback riding,  two for mountain biking, and a 11.7 mile scenic Perimeter Loop Trail for hiking.  The Buckeye Trail also traverses the state park.  And, let’s not forget about boating and fishing!  Caesar’s Creek Lake is known for its smallmouth and largemouth bass and crappies.   There are four launch ramps.  There is a large beach for swimming in the summer.  Hunting is allowed in season in the adjacent Wildlife Area.

(We will continue to examine some intriguing Underground Railroad stories from the Harveysburg-Oakland area,Warren andClinton Counties,Ohio).

Caesar’s Creek Gorge State Nature Preserve
4080 Corwin Rd.
Oregonia,Ohio 45054

Caesar’s Creek State Park
8570 E State Route 73
Waynesville, Ohio 45068-9719
(513) 897-3055 – Park Office

(937) 488-4595 -CampOffice

(513) 897-2437 -NatureCenter

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=PPmUYb7QqiY%3d&tabid=720 (Map of Caesar’s Creek State Park)

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Portals/2/parkmaps/caesarcreektrailmap.pdf (Trail Map)

http://backpackohio.com/caesarcreek.html (Detailed information about the Perimeter  Loop Trail at Caesar’s Creek Lake)

http://www.buckeyetrail.org/sec-caesarcreek.html (The Buckeye Trail through Caesar’s Creek State Park)

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Portals/9/Images/fishing/Lake%20Maps/pub285.gif (Fisherman’s Map)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Visitor Center at Caesar’s Creek
4020 N. Clarksville Road
Waynesville, OH 45068-9408
(513) 897-1050
Office hours: M-F, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sat. and Sun., 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (hours may vary any day, call ahead)

http://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/ccl/ (The official US Army Corps of Engineers, Caesar’s Creek Lake website)

Caesar’s Creek Lake Campgrounds
9000 Center Rd
Wilmington, Ohio45177
(937) 488-4595 – Campground
(513) 897-3055 – Park Office


Caesar’s Creek Pioneer Village
P.O. Box 652
Waynesville, Ohio 45068



Papi’s By the Lake, Harveysburg

74 West Main Street
Harveysburg, Ohio, 45032


See Websites:



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