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This and That-Jennings Memorial Hall PDF Print E-mail
Monday, January 24, 2011 5:09 AM

Fort Jennings has one of the most beautiful and stately war memorials to be found in Northwest Ohio. Memorial Hall rests majestically on a hill between the Auglaize River and Water Street in the heart of town. State Highways 189 and 190 intersect right in front of the hall. The community park lies right across the river with a foot bridge making the connection. It would be ideal to have a park bench or two behind the hall where residents could sit and observe nature along the river.

A small cemetery was once located on the same property. Was this where those 12 brave soldiers of the War of 1812 were buried? They did not die in battle with the British or the Indians. They died in the battle with the Great Black Swamp. They succumbed to swamp fever.

These troops, led by Colonel Williams Jennings Jr., opened up this territory to settlement. The fort was situated on Anthony Wayne’s trail which followed the Auglaize from Fort Amanda to Defiance. The canal didn’t come through this area until 1845.

Fort Jennings has the prestige of being one of the oldest permanent settlements in Northwest Ohio

Our ninth United States President once slept here. He was William Henry Harrison, who stayed overnight with 3,000 U. S. soldiers on their way to battle along the Maumee.

How many of you danced the night away at a wedding reception at the old Memorial Hall? For years it hosted parties, dances, visits with Santa and the like, but do you really know the story of how it came to be. The building’s social role in the community is dwarfed by its often forgotten significance as a memorial to heroes and fallen soldiers.

To understand the Memorial Hall’s origin, you have to go back in time to a land of swampland and Indians. It may be difficult to think of Putnam County as a military stronghold but the role of our region in maintaining the freedom of a fledging United States is an often untold story.

On 9 January 1771, William Jennings Jr. was born in Virginia. Both his grandfathers, his father and several uncles had served valiantly in the Revolutionary War and William Jennings Jr. continued in this family’s strong military tradition, joining the U. S. Militia at age 19. He was wounded in at least two battles involving skirmishes with Indians, both under General Anthony Wayne, once in Fort Wayne and again at Fort Recovery.

Under General William Henry Harrison, he fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe and his bravery and ability to stand out as a leader among soldiers resulted in advancement through the ranks. By 1812, William Jennings, Jr. had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was put in command of the Second Regiment of the Kentucky Militia.  These troops mustered into the army in Frankfort, Ky., and rendezvoused at Cincinnati before joining General William Henry Harrison’s army at Fort Barbee in St. Marys. On 21 September 1812, Lt. Col. Jennings was ordered to proceed down the Auglaize River to establish an intermediate post between St. Mary’s and Fort Defiance. Advancing about 30 miles, Lt. Col. Jennings saw signs of Indians and had spies who reported enemy activity at Defiance. He halted on the banks of the Auglaize River and began building block houses and with that, Fort Jennings came to be.

The fort served as an invaluable stronghold during the war of 1812. On 1 October 1812, General Harrison himself had several regiments of approximately 3,000 men spend the night at Fort Jennings as they were advancing to assist troops at Fort Defiance. Remember that General Harrison later became the ninth President of the United States.

General Harrison always felt Fort Jennings was a vital supply line for housing supplies and soldiers advancing along the Maumee River.
In October 1812, General Harrison wrote the United States Secretary of War: “There ought also to be at Fort Jennings on the Auglaize 30,000 to 40,000 rations.” A ration was one day’s food supply for one man.

In 1813, General Harrison wrote, “There are upon the Auglaize and St. Mary’s Rivers eight forts which contain within their walls, property to the amount of half a million dollars…”

At the end of March 1813, Lt. Col. Jennings and his troops returned to Kentucky, their six-month tour of duty completed. The sturdy fortress constructed under the direction of Lt. Col. Jennings had served the war department well. Fort Jennings remained in use until the war ended in December 1814, occupied now by Ohio militiamen who had replaced the Kentucky Militia there.

Fast forward to 1912. There is no formal account of the centennial celebration for the town that now bears the name of Lt. Col. Jennings but in the year following, Jennings Township and the Fort Jennings Village Council minutes identify the formation of a committee to investigate the construction of a fitting memorial to Lt. Colonel Jennings. As a twice wounded veteran of 14 years service to the American armed forces, his contribution to local and national history was worthy of something special. After all, it was Lt. Col. Jennings’ vision that placed the first white settlement in Putnam County and by his hand, the outpost built here had helped to preserve thousands of lives and freedom for a still developing United States. Lt. Col. Jennings’ fort was a safe house for countless troops right here in Putnam County, including one future president of the United States, William Henry Harrison.

As the discussion progressed on how to best honor Lt. Colonel Jennings, other prominent people in the county came forward in support of a large and grand war memorial for Lt. Col. Jennings and his soldiers who served and died here on Putnam County soil. In 1911, State Representative John Cowan from Putnam County introduced a bill into the Ohio House for funds “to erect at Fort Jennings, Ohio, a monument to the memory of Lt. Col. William Jennings.” Four thousand dollars was appropriated to the project and a site was selected and obtained to purposely “serve as a memorial to the War of 1812.”

The Jennings Memorial was the result of township, village and state fundraising of enormous proportions. The 80x46 monument was designed by architect W. B. Helmkamp of Akron and constructed by Newton Rozelle of Delphos. The architectural style would be a unique representation of the Arts and Crafts Movement and four towering chimneys would rise like blockhouses from each corner of the fort-inspired structure. Construction was started in 1916.  It was completed in time to hold high school graduation exercises in 1917.
A portion of the Jennings Memorial Hall was designated as a “Relic Room” where War of 1812 artifacts, other military items, Indian artifacts and objects of historical relevance could be kept and displayed. A plaque in the vestibule was contracted through I. S. Tyler Co. of Cleveland to read “This Memorial is dedicated to the honor of Col. William Jennings and his soldiers who fought and died here in the War of 1812.”

One of the earliest functions of the hall was fittingly to welcome home soldiers of World War I in a large reception there. What followed was years of service to the community for clubs, groups, private parties and who could forget the countless weddings held in the hall. The walls still echo with the music of bands, the laughter of jokes and the likely aroma of countless kegs sitting in the corner of the banquet room. I’m not sure what Colonel Jennings would have thought of all these activities but surely he would have been proud with what this little community did to honor his name and service to our country.

Fast forward to the present. Just this week, the Jennings Township Trustees granted approval to the Fort Jennings Historical Society to begin the first phase of a renovation project for the memorial. The work on is being done without any public funding and will start in February.

If you visit the Fort Jennings Bicentennial Celebration in August 2012, you can’t miss the big building that honors a big man in Putnam County History. The hall will also stand as a memorial to all the other brave men and women who have served and are still serving our country.

Now you know the story.


Last Updated on Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:20 PM

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