TIFFIN — A sign greets motorists at Tiffin’s city limits, near the big-box stores and fast-food chains that founders of this Seneca County seat would not have recognized as belonging to the same bend of riverbank they first settled.
“Welcome to Tiffin,” the gold letters read. “Founded 1817.”
The sign deceives.
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A volunteer committee of local historians convened by Tiffin’s heritage-minded mayor recently concluded the city is actually five years younger.
The group contends the founding year should be 1822, when Josiah Hedges had the town surveyed and platted. On Monday, the city council is expected to discuss a resolution that makes the founding date official.
“We’re excited to get this right,” Mayor Aaron Montz said.
The introspection makes sense for a city like Tiffin, led by a mayor like Mr. Montz, a 2008 Heidelberg University graduate who studied history and political science.
The city is home to Heidelberg and Tiffin University, several museums, and 18,000 people. A history-obsessed planner, Mr. Montz wants to prepare for Tiffin’s 200th anniversary celebration. But debate arose, as it has repeatedly among the city’s historically fastidious: When is the founding date?
“They went back to the 100th birthday of Tiffin, and there was some question even back then as to what the date should be,” said John Huss, an architectural designer who served on the committee.
Tiffin celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1967, which presumes an 1817 founding date. Earlier, townspeople celebrated the 75th anniversary in 1897, pegging the founding date as 1822.
The case for 1817 rests on the shoulders of Erastus Bowe, the first documented white settler. He built a log house and a tavern at Camp Ball. The military stockade had been built during the War of 1812 along the Sandusky River, opposite Tiffin’s present-day downtown.
The camp was occupied only for a short time, said Mark Steinmetz, a Seneca County Historical Society trustee who served on the founding date committee.
Certainly there must have been others living nearby whom Mr. Bowe hoped would buy his beer, the group reasoned.
“We were seeing this blurred line of, ‘Who is really here first?’ ” Mr. Steinmetz said. “Do we want to be known for the first beer joint? I don’t know.”
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In other words: A tavern does not a town make.
The committee instead gravitated to 1822. That year, Mr. Hedges gave lots to several men with the requirement they build cabins and bring their families to live there.
“I was trying to find evidence of what could be the earliest possibility for a settlement or town,” Mr. Steinmetz said.
Mr. Montz pointed to early Tiffinites who celebrated the town’s anniversary based on the 1822 date as one reason to support that year as a founding date. Because of their closer proximity to the city’s origin, they had a good sense of the most significant dates.
The committee also considered selecting another founding year, such as 1835, when Tiffin was incorporated, or 1850, when Tiffin and Fort Ball became one city.
The state assembly officially organized Seneca County in 1824, though the county had been founded as part of Huron County four years earlier.
Historians don’t have a standard for determining a founding date, said Tom Rieder, an archivist with the Ohio History Connection. The date surveys and plats are filed is often used, or the year a city is incorporated.
Councilman and committee member Jim Roberts initially argued on behalf of 1817.
“I said, at my age, I had a chance of seeing the bicentennial if it was in 2017, but 2022? I’m in trouble,” said the good-natured 78-year-old resident.
He’s content to start an annual celebration in 2017 to mark the birthday of Ohio’s first governor and the city’s namesake, Edward Tiffin.
The city entrance signs will be changed eventually to reflect the 1822 date, Mr. Montz said. He also wants to redesign the city seal and swap out bright green street signs for a more historic black or brown hue.
“There’s a lot that we want to update before the bicentennial and have it all finished by then, which is good, because this gives us more time,” he said.