Revisiting Hinckley’s past

Submitted by the Hinckley Historical Society

When we think of Hinckley Township, many thoughts come to mind.  Perhaps it’s the rural setting, the rolling hills, ledges, creeks and woods that come to mind. Maybe it’s Hinckley Lake and the Hinckley Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks.  All of these attributes create the beauty we enjoy every day. 

Hinckley is a community in which we greet old friends and welcome visitors. It offers that welcoming feel of a small community of neighbors all looking out for one another. Many of us take what sets Hinckley apart from other communities for granted as we live our daily lives. 

As we approach Hinckley’s bicentennial, we will examine the history of Hinckley and how it transformed from what was once a vast undeveloped wilderness to the beautiful community we now call home.

To understand the history of Hinckley, we must first explore the history of the Western Reserve, from which Hinckley Township originated. In the early 1660’s, the colony of Connecticut was granted a Royal Charter which granted to it land extending across North America to the Pacific Ocean. After the Revolutionary War, Connecticut relinquished the majority of its claims to land within the United States, however, it reserved claims to approximately 3.4 million acres extending nearly 120 miles west from Pennsylvania and bordering Lake Erie. 

In 1795, Connecticut sold this territory to a group of investors who formed the Connecticut Land Company. One investor in the company was Moses Cleaveland. In 1796, he led a group of surveyors into the territory.  The task was to survey the land and to negotiate land rights with the Native Americans inhabiting portions of the land. Although the original intent was to grant land rights to the Native Americans, Moses Cleaveland compromised these rights by granting them livestock, whiskey and various smaller items.

On July 22, 1796, the Connecticut Land Company reached what is now known as the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and decided to make this area the capital of the territory.  The men working for Moses Cleaveland named this town Cleaveland in his honor. 

Legend has it that in the 1830’s, the city’s newspaper could not fit the “A” in Cleaveland in its headline, so the “A” was dropped and that is how the spelling of Cleveland changed.

The center of the town surveyed by Cleaveland included a high point just North of Lake Erie which is now known as Public Square in the city of Cleveland and now adorns a bronze statue of Moses Cleaveland.

Another area surveyed by Moses Cleaveland was known as Township 4N Range 13W. This territory was held by the Connecticut Land Company.  Judge Samuel Hinckley was a graduate of Yale College and an attorney and Probate Judge in Northampton, Massachusetts.  As an original shareholder in the Connecticut Land Company, Hinckley purchased numerous territories of undeveloped land. In 1795, he purchased township 4N Range 13W from the Connecticut Land Company.  The purchase price was $12,903.23 for a total of 15,304 acres.

As Ohio was making the transition from a largely unsettled territory to a frontier state, it was further divided into counties as more settlers moved into each region. In 1800, Trumbull County was erected and embraced the entire Western Reserve and the land owned by the Connecticut Land Company. Ohio continued to develop and new settlers filled the region, primarily in the northeastern part. The Western Reserve was further divided into Trumbull and Geauga in 1806, followed by Geauga, Portage, Cuyahoga, Ashtabula and Trumbull in 1808.  Finally, the territory known as Medina was formed in 1812 and Medina County was officially founded as an Ohio county on Nov. 30, 1818.

The property owned by Judge Hinckley remained undeveloped and the vast majority of the land was overrun with wildlife. Wolves and bears dominated the territory. The early settlors were unable to farm the area due to the attacks on their livestock.  On Dec. 24, 1818, the early settlers of the area, including those from some of the surrounding areas of Brecksville, Richfield, Cleveland, Royalton, Granger and Newburgh organized a massive hunt.  It is reported that 600 men took part in the hunt. The goal of the hunt was to rid the area of wild animals so the residents could farm their crops and raise livestock. 

Four captains were appointed and all men were told to report at sunrise and to bring all the weapons they had, including bayonets, axes, hatchets and butcher knives. The hunt was organized by first scoring the borders of the township and from these borders those participating in the hunt drove all the wild animals to the center of the township where the animals were killed. 

As the hunters approached the center, only the most experienced men were allowed to proceed to avoid injury to another. At the conclusion of the day, they barbecued bear, wild turkey and deer and enjoyed whiskey as they celebrated this great Christmas Eve hunt. Most reports conclude the spot at the center of this great hunt was located near what we now know as the center of Hinckley.

Various accounts reveal the hunt resulted in the killing of nearly 300 deer, 21 bears, 17 wolves and a number of turkeys and fox. Many of these animals not consumed that day were left dead in the barren snow-covered area. In the spring, the snow melted and the carcass of these animals were revealed. According to some accounts, buzzards appeared to feast on the remains of the animals and have continued to return every year since.

For years, Judge Hinckley pursued other real estate developments, believing they were more profitable ventures than the development of Township 4N Range 13W.  Many reports reveal that of all the shareholders in the Connecticut Land Company, Hinckley was among the shrewdest. Although, at the time, he did not see the area now known as Hinckley to be ready to inhabit, he predicted that this land would at some point sell for as much as $10 per acre. 

Following the Great Hinckley Hunt, in 1819, Hinckley understood this area was now more conducive to settlement. He used the services of Brunswick surveyor Abraham Freeze to survey the township. The area was divided into 100 plots of land, each containing 160 acres. The township was five square miles and 160 acres. Land at that time was sold for $3 an acre.

On Sept. 25, 1825, Hinckley Township was organized. Judge Hinckley gave land which was to be used for two burial grounds and another half-acre plot which was to be used as a public square. In exchange for the donations of land, Township 4N Ragen 13W was named “Hinckley” in his honor.

A marker acknowledging the efforts of Judge Samuel Hinckley has since been erected by the Hinckley Historical Society and the Ohio Historical Society at Hinckley Town Hall. ∞

Photo: A marker acknowledging the efforts of Judge Samuel Hinckley has since been erected by the Hinckley Historical Society and the Ohio Historical Society at Hinckley Town Hall. Photo submitted.