When Ashtabula County was organized, Harpersfield Township included all the territory within its limits plus Trumbull, Hartsgrove and Geneva Township. But in May 1816 a small group of settlers just north of Harpersfield Village decided to withdraw from Harpersfield Township and at a mass meeting and at the suggestion of Levi Gaylord named their new community Geneva, after the beautiful little town of Geneva, New York.
These first settlers included, first, Theobalt Bartholomew of Charlotte, N.Y. In 1805 he left the craggy, rock laden soil at the foot of the Catskills to arrive several months later on the South Ridge road near the west bank of Cowles Creek. Here he and his family made their home as the first settlers within the limits of Geneva. The next settler was Elisha Wiard, who came from Connecticut, a young, active and industrious man who made considerable improvement in the land just a quarter of a mile north of the Bartholomews. Then in 1806, James Morrison Sr. and Levi Gaylord came from Harpersfield, New York. Levi was to start the first neighborhood industry, a tannery and boot making shop. Unfortunately he was too liberal in extending credit to the very people he trusted and in two years the business failed. However he turned to politics and he spent fifteen years holding many offices at the local and state level.
The next to settle on the site of the present South Ridge and on the banks of the creek were a Dr. Nathan B. Johnson and Noah Cowles. (the creek was to be named for Mr. Cowles) Then in 1808, Eleazer Davis improved land for a farm. During the next seven years fifteen families came to the little settlement, among them being Squire B. French, John Ketchum, John Jacob and Benjamin Bartholomew, the Reverend Jonathan Leslie, Samuel Quinton and Abisha Lawton and Truman Watkins.
In the vicinity of the now North Ridge were Samuel Thompson, Norman Webster, and Harvey S. Spencer. Geneva’s first election was held in 1816 at the dwelling house of Loren Cowles, the vote totaled twenty-five at the polls. The first listing of taxable property netted twenty-six cabins and 98 head of cattle. From these first settlers the town of Geneva is established and flourishes.
The first prayer meetings were held in various homes in the area by the First Methodist Church traveling minister; in 1809 the Congregational Church was organized and in 1816 the Baptist Church was formed.
Pioneers from the eastern seaboard states, hearing tales of Ohio’s fertile soil, arrived daily in this area coming in oxcarts, some on horseback and many in foot. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1820, the introduction of steamboats and the increasing number and size of lake shipping added to the attraction of the lake for settlement.
In the early years the south ridge (Route 84) was the main road. It was here the first frame school house was erected in 1821. Prior to this building the children had attended a log school house built in 1808 and before that had been taught in the homes of the first settlers.
In 1820 Deacon Cowles traded a horse for a contract for 400 acres of Geneva land. He hastened to Connecticut to obtain his grant, upon returning gave his son Loren one hundred acres which was located east of the present square; gave son Joseph one hundred acres to the west. Besides the four Cowles there were only two others living on the site of the present business district, on Joe Bartholomew and a Thompson family.
By 1829 Geneva was spreading from the south ridge to the north ridge (Route 20), so in this year of 1829 a post office was started on the north ridge much to the delight of Geneva residents for up to this time they had to go to Harpersfield for their mail. Most trading was done in Austinburg and the nearest bank was at Warren. The postmaster was Eliphalet Mills. He was an enterprising visionary from the east who was the first merchant to build a store in the center of Geneva. During the 1820’s his interests included a grist mill, a tannery, a distillery and a blacksmith shop. The post office was located in his store.
About 1834, S.S. Tuller opened a hotel on West Main St.(Route 20) The population in 1840 had grown to 1215. In 1850, Romanzo Spring established the pioneer drug store. In 1852 the Lake Shore railway came from Cleveland through Geneva to Ashtabula. Soon after the opening of the railroad through Geneva, Tom Tuller opened another Tuller Hotel on North Broadway near the railway and it is said that people came from miles around to this famous Tuller House.
Norman S. Caswell manufactured scythes, fork handles etc. in 1849 which he sold from the back of his wagon. In 1854 he worked with O.H. and J.H. Price in a partnership from a building on the south ridge. The business flourished and his trade extended over Ohio, to Pennsylvania and into Michigan. In 1868 business had so increased that a stock company was formed and he was joined by Charles Tinker. The company was known as the Geneva Tool Works.
On December 1, 1863 the pioneer First National Bank was formed with a cash capital of one hundred dollars. R.B. and H.S. Munger were members of the original Board of Directors. Also in 1863, one Charles Talcott arrived in Geneva and proved to be a sound business man. A tinner by trade, he joined V.J.C. Hodge, rented the old Mills store, and started a hardware store. A year later they purchased the store and erected an addition. In 1867 it became necessary to expand again. Mr. Talcott bought out his partner and after moving the old Mills store a few roads east on Main Street, built a brick building on Center St. running thorough to East Main. At this time it is reported that he was doing $40,000 worth of business annually. He also acquired a going jewelry business and in 1877 was awarded a franchise for the Cooley system of butter making. He also was involved as Secretary-Treasurer of the Enterprise Mfg. Co., a firm that produced kitchen utensils and in later years became known as the Champion Hardware Company. At some point among his many ventures he added a music store to his holdings. Perhaps he spread himself too thin for in 1880 he was forced into bankruptcy.
Going back to 1866 on a bright day in June, the settlement of Geneva became an incorporated village with Dennis Thorp the first mayor. The first newspaper was established in 1866 with H.H. Thorp as proprietor and Warren P. Spencer as editor. In 1868 the community felt there was a need for advanced education, a tax levy was proposed and passed making it possible for the building of the Geneva Normal School. A school that offered Normal and Commercial courses along with classes in Music.
In the year of 1874, Geneva purchased their first fire engine, a number four steamer fire engine and there were twenty-five members on the fire fighting force.
In 1896 the town had a population of three thousand. They had five churches, two railroads running through the town. In addition to the aforementioned businesses there was a bicycle factory, a piano factory, a Metal Wheel Works. Two banks, two groceries, one dry goods store, two clothing establishments, two hardware stores, three jewelers, two bakeries, two meat markets, two drug stores, a flour mill, a laundry, a firm of funeral directors, the telephone system, the electric light company and the Walter Main Circus Headquarters, that noted showman who made his winter quarters in Geneva.
In 1900’s Geneva became known for its automobile industry. The first car to be manufactured here was the “Geneva Steamer” in 1901. It was a steam driven horseless carriage, one of which is still on display at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan. This company also made a racing model, named the “Turtle.” Three years later the company sold out to the Colonial Brass Co. The second attempt at automobile manufacturing in Geneva began in 1908. E.L. Ewing began production of the Ewing Taxi with a plant crew of fifty men. This company was in business just two years and sold out to General Motors who moved the business to Flint, Michigan.
In 1920 the Heifner Motor Company announced plans to build a luxury line, including a sports car and a touring car. But gathering stock holders failed and the business produced but one sport model. By this time Genevans were skeptical about the automobile industry but this didn’t stop the H.B. Young Motor Company of Cleveland from relocating their business to Geneva to produce a truck line “Little Giant.” Again another auto industry failed, with the business being sold just eighteen months later. As history now shows, Geneva’s greatest contribution to the auto industry was not any of these production ventures. It was, rather, in the life of Ransom E. Olds, born in Geneva in 1864, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Phiny Olds. When in his teens the family moved to Lansing, Michigan and Ransom’s interest in the automobile grew and it was here the first Oldsmobile’s were produced, including the “REO” named for Ransom E. Olds. Geneva proudly claims Mr. Olds as one of their most famous of native sons.
As it did in the past, the grape industry still plays an important part in the economy of Geneva. A large food plant in the city being a main customer for the grapes. A grape research center is in the process of operation to serve the country. For twenty-two years Geneva has held a “Grape Jamboree” festival every fall, attracting visitors from miles around.
In 1816 a group of settlers gave the name of Geneva to their community, fifty years later the population had increased and they became a village with a mayor and then in 1958 the “Village” ceased to be and Geneva became a “City” with a new charter system of government and a city manager elected to office. The first city manager was Robert C. Salisbury.