Buckeye Station, the one-time home of Nathaniel Massie and his brother-in-law, Charles Willing Byrd, lays in ruins, marked now by a cell phone tower on what was once known as Hurricane Hill. An inescapable reference to what local historian Stephen Kelley once described as “the nearly constant wind coming out of the Ohio Valley that buffets the ridges on each side of the river,” Hurricane Hill offers a commanding and dramatic view of the Ohio and Kentucky hills to the south. Buckeye Station, the original residence, took its name from the timber used in its construction, which was cut from a grove of Aesculus glabra, the Ohio Buckeye, which still grows in abundance on the grounds of this historic overlook.
The early American inhabitants of the region adopted the buckeye for their state’s nickname. Easy to split, the buckeye was commonly used for making furniture and log structures. Its nuts, whose dark color is marked off with a light brown spot, resembled the eye of a deer and thereby imparted the colloquial nickname. Today, candy “buckeyes” are a popular regional delicacy, which involves a ball of peanut butter fudge, hand-rolled and dipped in chocolate, in such a way that a circle of peanut butter is left exposed.
Nathaniel Massie, who originally built Buckeye Station, is remembered as the founder of nearby Manchester, the first American settlement in the Virginia Military District (VMD), and Chillicothe, the first (and the third) capital of the state of Ohio. While still a bachelor, in 1797, Massie is said to have built and briefly called Buckeye Station home. He spent most of his time in these years traversing the hills and prairies of the lands between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, engaged in surveying hundreds of thousands of acres of land, taking payment in cash and warrant lands.
Massie made a fortune in VMD lands, married, and settled down on a new country estate, which he built just off Zane’s Trace, near the Falls of Paint Creek in the newly created Ross County. For a while Massie leased the farm on Hurricane Hill to a man named John Moore, but he eventually, in 1807, sold the property, 600 acres, to his brother-in-law, Charles Willing Byrd.
Byrd had served as North-West Territorial Secretary, 1799-1803, and briefly as Acting Governor, serving from November 1802 until March 1803, when Ohio achieved statehood and Edward Tiffin became the first state governor of Ohio. In 1803, both Byrd and Massie served in the constitutional convention, where both men voted to continue the Congressional ban on slavery. President Thomas Jefferson then named Byrd as the first judge of the new Federal District Court of Ohio. Byrd then served on its bench until his death in 1828. However, by then Byrd had removed from Buckeye Station to his last residence in Sinking Spring, Highland County, leaving behind his deceased wife, who was laid to rest near Buckeye Station.
Before moving to Buckeye Station, Judge Byrd resided in Cincinnati, where he served as a political ally to Massie and the Virginian faction of settlers who had opposed the rule of Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair.
One of the more interesting stories from this era that involves both men, concerned an African American named Abraham, whom Massie had previously emancipated and brought to Ohio as an indentured servant. It was not uncommon for former slave owners in Ohio to have signed contracts with their emancipated slaves, binding them to multi-year terms before they would be truly free. Many white settlers viewed the additional years of service as a redemption payment of sorts for the cost of their emancipation. Others, it appears, simply wanted to exploit their fellowman.
In spring of 1801, Abraham, an indentured servant of Massie’s, ran away to Cincinnati, “in pursuit of his freedom,” where he filed suit in Judge Byrd’s court. Byrd immediately notified his brother-in-law of the suit. Abraham, according to Byrd, had claimed Massie had threatened “to sell him if he did not sign the indenture, and by other menaces,” Abraham claimed, “he was compelled to subscribe it, and that as it was an involuntary act, he ought to be emancipated by the judiciary.”
Byrd and Massie, who were both known opponents of slavery’s introduction in Ohio, were more than comfortable with using territorial law to compel longterm indentured servitude. Thanks to Byrd’s friendly notice, Massie was able to secure an arrest warrant for Abraham, who was then hired out, while spending weeks in the Hamilton County jail. Byrd would write Massie, explaining that he had only “consented to his liberation from confinement as soon as I discovered symptoms of repentance.” Byrd then arranged to have Abraham escorted back to Massie’s custody in Ross County.
Andrew Cayton, a noted historian of pioneer Ohio, has written, “The commitment of the Scioto gentry to antislavery was real, but limited. They opposed an institution that coerced people against their will but did not object to exploiting blacks who ‘chose’ to work for them. In their minds, there was a critical difference between involuntary and voluntary servitude. But for men like Abraham, freedom was a theoretical situation and the choice to labor or not was moot.”
Men like Byrd and Massie, on the other hand, relied upon both free and unfree labor when improving or exploiting their Ohio lands. While white tenant farmers like John Moore could acquire their own land after a relative short period of time in which they cleared and improved the land of speculators like Massie & Byrd, African Americans were not so privileged.” Men like Abraham discovered Ohio to be less than the Promised Land of their dreams.
In 1930, historian Morten Carlisle visited Hurricane Hill and recorded this description of the bluff, upon which the Station stood: “Before reaching the house the road passes a remarkable projecting shelf of rock which extends out over the valley below for sixty or seventy feet.” From this vantage point, Carlisle explained, “you obtain a wonderful view of the valley with the river about 500 feet below. The river and the Kentucky hills lie like a panorama, stretching out in endless billows of green with the silver ribbon of water below for fully ten miles in either direction.” Massie and Byrd, as with Native Americans beforehand, were originally drawn to this spot by its dramatic Ohio River vista.
Carlisle noted in 1930 that the old house was inhabited by a tenant farming family, and that it was “in very bad repair, filthy and dirty beyond description. …. The large fire place had been torn out and the chimney walled up, with only a hole for a stove pipe left. …. The ceilings and walls were covered with paper, rough common paper, nailed on and much of it hanging in shreds, which added to the general rundown look of the place.”
In 1933, the Adams County Historical Society erected a stone monument, marking the site, below the bluff, on US Route 52, and, three years later, in 1936, the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) conducted its documentation of the site. With the monument resembling a massive headstone, one suspects these preservation efforts were done in hopes of preserving some record of the structure before its utter demise. Thankfully, the HABS records, high quality photographs and drawings, enable us today to imagine pioneer life on Hurricane Hill, when Massie and Byrd called it home.
Today, Buckeye Station is on private property, whose owner’s rights Scioto Historical asks all its readers to respect.
Jonathan J. Bean, “Marketing ‘the great American commodity’: Nathaniel Massie and Land Speculation on the Ohio Frontier, 1783-1813” Ohio History Vol. 103 (1994): 152-169
Morten Carlisle, “Buckeye Station,” Ohio History Vol. 40 (1931): 1-22.
Andrew R. L. Cayton, The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780-1825 (Kent State University Press, 1986), 58.
Ellen Wilson Denney, “Surveyor Speculation in the Virginia Military Tract, The Territorial Period,” Cincinnati Historical Society Bulletin 34 (Fall 1976): 174-188.
Stephen Kelley, “The history of Buckeye Station,” Lore, Legends & Landmarks of Old Adams, West Union People’s Defender (18 March 2009): A9.
David Meade Massie, Nathaniel Massie, a pioneer of Ohio: a sketch of his life and selections from his correspondence (R. Clarke Co., 1896).