WESTFIELD — The village that sits on the county’s western edge has survived hangings, a frontier lifestyle and a tornado.
Most damaging was the tornado that struck there on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965. News reports said 23 residents were injured and hospitalized; homes were destroyed, trailers overturned and businesses damaged. One woman was killed.
The Methodist Church, which had been recently remodeled, was destroyed and a new church dedicated a year later.
Frank Hickman grew up in Westfield Township on his family’s 130-acre dairy farm.
“The two most prominent things were the Westfield United Methodist Church and Granger’s Grocery,” Hickman said.
Westfield Township was carved out of what was originally part of Troy, Marlborough and Oxford townships in Delaware County and Waldo Township in Marion County.
The family farm where the Hickmans raised Holstein cattle is in the southwest corner, a mile and a half west of the village.
“For everyone, the church was the center of social life, providing activities for farm families,” Hickman recalled. “Everything from vacation Bible school to Easter sunrise service, to Christmas programs, youth groups and 10-cent suppers was there.”
Local lore has it that the village was a bit on the wild side in its early days, with salons and stagecoaches part of the landscape. When the Methodists moved in above the saloon, they got credit for calming the mood, according to “A History of Morrow County.”
Jonathan Shaw achieved a great deal in the early days.
He built the first round log, the first hewed log and the first block house in the township. Shaw also served as the first Justice of the Peace for two decades before stepping down. He built one of the county’s earliest mills in 1914 on his farm.
At its peak in 1853, Westfield had a dry goods and hardware store, egg packaging plants, a buggy and wagon factory, harness maker, three distilleries and a fanning mill that employed 20 people.
In 1850 Census records showed 1,414 residents in the township. A hanging tree was said to be located just south of town.
The railroad was built in Ashley around that time and much of the commerce and trade moved there or to nearby Cardington.
“Prior to that, Westfield was the burgeoning community in that region.”
A century later Hickman made lifelong memories in the grocery he frequented during his childhood.
“Everyone in the the community traded there. Once a month my mom would go in and settle up our bill, as Guy Granger would give families credit,” he said.
There was a gas pump outside the store.
Granger did a lot more than sell penny candy and food, however. “He really looked after that town … he did a lot of good things behind the scenes,” Hickman said.
Hickman owns a painting that Granger did of a farm wife holding a duckling.
The Palm Sunday tornado remains vivid in Hickman’s mind.
“I was a senior. The tornado touched down near Radnor, jumped Route 23 and made its way right into Westfield. It took down the church.”
A picture of Jesus in the front of the church was about all that remained amid the rubble.
“It’s hanging in the new church today,” he said.
Reach Conchel at [email protected] or at 419-946-3010, extension 1806.