Renewing Surveying Heritage – Harmony Hill Land Office
Clermont County is nestled in the southwest corner of the 4.2 million acres of the Virginia Military District of Ohio, land that was reserved as bounty lands to Virginia’s soldiers of the American Revolution. Bounded on the west by the Little Miami River, the east by the Scioto River, the south by the Ohio River, and the north by the Greenville Treaty Line, the reserve encompasses a large area of the south central part of the state.
Under the direction of Principal Surveyor Col. Richard Clough Anderson, a Virginian, the Deputy Surveyors and crews began locating land here in the fall of 1787, down on the Ohio River, the first of the surveys in the District. Unlike the majority of Ohio’s lands that were divided into the sectionalized public land system, the VMS was divided indiscriminately by metes and bounds surveys.
This year, 2020, marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the District’s Deputy Surveyors, Major General William Lytle. Lytle is hailed as the “Father of Clermont County”, and rightfully so. He began his surveying career while working with his father as a teenager, later working with VMS Deputy Surveyor Nathaniel Massie, and at the ripe old age of 23 was appointed a Deputy Surveyor by Anderson. A young man well versed in the rigors of the frontier life, Lytle, even as a teenager, had been involved with skirmishes with Indians, wounded on occasion, and lucky on at least one occasion to have escaped with his life.
Lytle began his surveying operations in the District near present day Williamsburg, Ohio, on the waters of the East Fork of the Little Miami River, where he established a “Surveyors Camp” as a base circa 1794. Finding the area much to his personal liking, he purchased the entire patent from Daniel DeBenneville, one of the first of many he would acquire here. Soon, he laid up his plans to plat and create the Town of Lytlestown – later becoming known as Williamsburgh, just north of the Surveyors Camp, and in 1797 he was ready to sell lots in the wilderness town.
By 1800, Lytle hired John Charles, a stone mason in Williamsburg to begin construction of a permanent residence for his family at Harmony Hill. A frame house, a stone dairy house and a stone land office were built on the bluff overlooking the East Fork, and a few hundred yards southwest of the main part of the town.
The dairy house still stands today, some 220 years after it was constructed. The house and land office are gone. The land office, from local sources may have still been standing as late as the end of World War II.
Through the efforts of the Board of Harmony Hill Association, and Southwest Chapter of the Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio, a search for the remains of the land office began in 2019. Thanks to a few old photographs and an artist’s rendering of the dairy house and the land office, and with a large dose of good luck, the remains of the west wall of the land office were found. Further excavation revealed the remnants of the other walls of the 18’ x 18’ structure, and ground penetrating radar substantiated the results.
The completed replica of this land office is a tribute to General Lytle and to the thousands of acres of land that were bought and sold from this location. This living museum serves the community at large as a means of providing the history of Lytle, his surveying career, and to the surveyors of yesteryear and today. This land office also served as the only US Post Office between Maysville, Kentucky and Newtown, Ohio.
Harmony Hill Association is a 501 C3 charitable foundation, all monies donated to this endeavor are tax deductible. While construction has been completed, furnishings and surveying equipment are still needed for the land office.